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By Kevin McGowan
Dec. 28 — A former power company supervisor must undergo a trial on her overtime pay claims because factual issues remain about whether she was an exempt administrative employee, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit ruled Dec. 28.
Reversing summary judgment for Veronica Grage, the court said Northern States Power Co., her former employer, raised a triable defense that Grage's work “directly related” to the company's management or general business operations and therefore fit within the Fair Labor Standards Act's exemption for administrative employees.
The parties agreed Grage met the salary test contained in the DOL's regulations but disputed whether her work “directly related” to the company's management or general business operations and whether it required her to exercise discretion and independent judgment.
The Labor Department is currently reviewing its regulations interpreting the FLSA's “white collar” exemption, which excludes bona fide professional, executive or administrative employees from the act's overtime provision.
Grage, a Northern States employee in Minnesota for more than 30 years, argued that despite being a salaried supervisor, her primary duty was to schedule and dispatch utility work crews. Such duties are akin to production work that falls outside the FLSA exemption, she said.
But Northern States said Grage properly was classified as exempt because her job included short-term and long-term planning and supervision of work crews and she “was not actually producing anything.”
Summary judgment was improper because “fundamental factual issues” remain that a jury must decide, the Eighth Circuit said.
“Specifically, the jury needs to weigh the evidence and determine the primary duties Grage performed as a Supervisor I before the court can decide the legal question of whether those duties exclude her from overtime pay under the FLSA,” Judge C. Arlen Beam wrote. “This is not a case where a ‘rational trier of fact' could not possibly find in favor of the nonmoving party.”
Factual issues regarding Grage's primary job duties also require a trial on whether she exercised “discretion and independent judgment” regarding “matters of significance” for purposes of the exemption, the court said.
Judges Roger L. Wollman and Raymond W. Gruender joined in the decision.
Nichols & Kaster represented Grage. Dorsey & Whitney represented Northern States.
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