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By Jon Steingart
Jan. 7 — A UPS Ground Freight Inc. operations supervisor falls within a California wage and hour law's exemption for executive or administrative employees, so she is not entitled to overtime, a federal judge ruled Jan. 4.
The exemption requires that an employee exercise “discretion and independent judgment” in their duties. Maria Banuelos contended she follows company guidelines rather than make decisions herself.
UPS's policies shape Banuelos's decision making but don't eliminate it, Judge Percy Anderson of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California said, granting summary judgment to UPS. Banuelos's incorrect interpretation would make the exemption apply only to the “uppermost tier of corporate officers or high-level management,” Anderson said, quoting the California Court of Appeal.
Banuelos spends the majority of her time supervising a team of more than 20 dock workers, Anderson said. She continuously evaluates her direct reports' performance and disciplines them as necessary, the judge said.
Banuelos's duties relate to maintaining and improving her team's performance, Anderson said. She monitors workloads and adjusts routes based on drivers' and customers' locations, UPS said.
Banuelos agreed that she is authorized to adjust the number of drivers, but a business plan limits the number of drivers who could work at one time, she said.
These facts showed no dispute that Banuelos's duties primarily involve exercising discretion and judgment, Anderson said.
Anderson compared Banuelos to another UPS employee who brought an overtime claim. In Taylor v. United Parcel Serv. Inc., 118 Cal. Rptr. 3d 834, 17 WH Cases2d 307 (Cal. Ct. App. 2010), the California Court of Appeal saw “no obstacle in concluding as a matter of law” that an employee who makes “numerous discretionary decisions on a daily basis” exercises discretion and independent judgment.
Moreover, adherence to the business plan doesn't make Banuelos nonexempt from the wage law, Anderson said. Operating within company policy doesn't transform employees into “mere automatons” who exercise no independent thought, she said, quoting Taylor.
Adamson Ahdoot and the Sethi Law Firm represented Banuelos. BurnsBarton LLP represented UPS.
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