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Archive for the ‘Wage & Hour’ Category

Salary History Cannot Be Used To Justify Wage Gap

Posted on: April 10th, 2018

By: Rebecca J. Smith

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, which heard the case of Rizo v. Fresno County Office of Education en banc last year, has changed the 9th Circuit’s position and found that an employee’s prior salary – either alone or in a combination of factors – cannot be used to justify paying women less than men in comparable jobs.

“The Equal Pay Act stands for a principle as simple as it is just:  men and women should receive equal pay for equal work regardless of sex” Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote in the opinion.   The opinion clearly establishes that an employer cannot justify a wage differential between male and female employees by relying on prior salary.

In the ruling made on Monday, April 09, 2018, the en banc panel overturned the earlier panel’s decision looking at the history of the act and indicating that Congress simply could not have intended to allow employers to rely on past discriminatory wages to justify continuing wage differentials.  One of the biggest issues, going forward after this decision will be whether negotiated salaries are included within the equal pay statutes.  Judge M. Margaret McKeown indicated in her concurring opinion that she was concerned about chilling voluntary discussions between employees or potential employees and employers when an employee is attempting to use prior salaries as a bargaining chip.

If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Rebecca Smith at [email protected].

Leveling the Paying Field

Posted on: April 5th, 2018

By: Michael M. Hill

The Eleventh Circuit has held differences in work experience and salary history—factors many employers traditionally consider in setting pay rates—may not justify differences in pay between employees performing the same job.

Bowen v. Manheim Remarketing, Inc., No. 16-17237 (11th Cir. Feb. 21, 2018), was a suit under the Equal Pay Act (“EPA”), which requires employers to pay men and women the same for performing equal work on jobs requiring equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and performed under similar working conditions.  The plaintiff in Bowen was a woman who was promoted to a management position previously held by a man, and she alleged she was paid less than he was because of her sex.

The court, however, threw the case out before trial and granted judgment in favor of the employer because the employer showed that the male comparator, when he started in that same position, had been with the employer for twice as long as the plaintiff (6 years to her 3 years).  He also had come into the job from another position earning the same salary, whereas the plaintiff was promoted from a lower-paying position.  (One defense to an EPA claim is that the difference in pay was based on some “factor other than sex.”)

But the Eleventh Circuit reversed the trial court’s judgment on appeal and held the case should go to trial.  Despite these objective and undisputed gender-neutral factors between the two employees, the appellate court held that a jury still may find the employees’ sex played some role in the reason for the pay disparity.

One surprising point about the Eleventh Circuit’s holding is its reasoning that, even if the difference in work experience and salary history could justify starting the plaintiff off at a lower salary, these same factors would not justify maintaining this pay difference once she was performing the job proficiently.

Bowen should serve as a reminder to employers to review their payroll to ensure that men and women performing the same job are being paid equitably.  Factors that may justify a difference in pay at one point might not be sufficient further down the road.

In addition, while the EPA is a federal law, more and more states and cities are passing their own pay equity laws, many of which impose different obligations upon employers, such as prohibitions against asking job applicants their salary history, requiring employers to fully explain even the smallest differences in pay, or even requiring pay equity for protected classes other than gender (such as race, national origin, age, etc.).  As such laws are expected to become more commonplace, now is the time to get ahead of the curve.

If you have any questions or would like more information on navigating pay equity laws, please contact Michael M. Hill at [email protected].

Back Where We Started: Service Advisors Once Again Are Exempt From Federal Overtime Requirements

Posted on: April 3rd, 2018

By: Brad Adler & Michael Hill

After years of back and forth in the lowers courts, the Supreme Court has ruled that service advisors at auto dealerships are exempt employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”).  It’s the rare case that goes to the Supreme Court twice.  But after taking the scenic route through the federal court system, the Supreme Court’s Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro decision finally has arrived and brought much-needed clarity to auto dealerships across the country.

As we have written in several previous blogs, the confusion began in 2011, when the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) suddenly (and without explanation) reversed its decades-old position that service advisors were exempt from the FLSA.  The text of the statute at issue provides that “salesman . . . primarily engaged in selling or servicing automobiles” at covered dealerships are exempt.  Since the 1970s, courts and even the DOL itself took the position that a service advisor was such a “salesman.”  In 2011, however, the DOL threw a monkey wrench under the hood by issuing a new rule that “salesman” under the statute no longer would include a service advisor.

This ruling from the Supreme Court, however, applies a straightforward interpretation of the statute’s language and holds that a service advisor is a “salesman . . . primarily engaged in . . . servicing automobiles.”  According to Justice Clarence Thomas, who authored the majority’s opinion, “servicing automobiles” includes more than just working underneath the hood of a car.  “Servicing” is a concept broad enough to encompass meeting with customers, listening to their concerns, suggesting or recommending certain repairs and maintenance, selling new accessories or replacement parts, following up with customers as services are performed, and explaining the repairs and maintenance work to customers when they come to pick up their vehicles.

The Encino Motorcars decision also brought back a special souvenir for employers in other industries.  In reversing the Ninth Circuit’s decision, the Supreme Court expressly rejected the oft-quoted principle that exemptions to the FLSA “should be construed narrowly.”  It now is the Supreme Court’s view that, because the FLSA does not actually say its exemptions should be interpreted narrowly, “there is no reason to give [them] anything other than a fair (rather than a ‘narrow’) interpretation.”  As there are over two dozen exemptions just to the overtime-pay requirement of the FLSA, Encino Motorcars may provide some ammunition for employers fighting exemption disputes in the future.

For questions about this case or how it may impact your business, or other questions or advice regarding wage and hour laws, please contact [email protected] or [email protected].

Congress Steps Into Tip-Pooling Fight

Posted on: March 23rd, 2018

By: Timothy J. Holdsworth

We wrote previously about the background on the tip-pooling regulations and the DOL’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“NPR”) that would allow tip-pooling arrangements that include employees who do not regularly and customarily receive tips under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). The DOL received a considerable number of comments on the NPR, some of which worried that the NPR would allow employers to keep their workers’ tips.

Buried in the spending bill Congress passed (pages 2025-2027 if you are dying to read it) is a rider that will affect the current U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) laws on tips. The bill proposes language that prohibits an employer, including managers and supervisors, from keeping tips received by employees. This prohibition would apply regardless of whether the employer takes the tip credit. The rider also would make employers liable to employees for any tips unlawfully kept by the employer.

If the bill is signed by President Trump, these may substantially affect any tip-pooling arrangements employers planned to enact under the NPR. It is also unclear if the DOL may try to revise the NPR in any way.

The provision would also subject employers to new liability under the FLSA. Just last year, the Eleventh Circuit (Alabama, Florida, and Georgia) in Malivuk v. Ameripark, LLC held that the FLSA does not authorize an employee to sue her employer solely for an employer allegedly withholding her tips when the employee does not allege that she received less than the minimum wage or less than what she was entitled to for overtime work. The rider creates a new cause of action solely for withheld tips.

If you have any questions about what these potential changes may mean for your business or would like more information on navigating wage and hour laws, please contact Tim Holdsworth at [email protected].

Governor Wolf Proposes New Overtime Rules for Pennsylvania

Posted on: February 20th, 2018

By: Christopher M. Curci

Employers may recall the Obama administration’s efforts in 2016 to increase the overtime rule salary exemption from $23,600 annually to $47,476 annually.  By way of background, employers are required to pay overtime to employees who work over 40 hours in a given workweek.  However, many “white collar” employees are exempt from the overtime rules if their salary is above the $23,600 annual threshold.

The Obama administration’s proposed changes in 2016 caused quite a hubbub, finding strong support from pro-employee groups and strong opposition from pro-business groups.  Ultimately, the proposed changes were struck down by a federal court and the Presidential administration turned over to President Trump, largely mooting the issue.

However, Pennsylvania employers should be aware that Governor Wolf recently announced a similar change to Pennsylvania’s wage and hour laws as part of his “Jobs That Pay” initiative.  Governor Wolf’s proposal calls for increasing the salary exemption to $31,720 annually in 2020, $39,832 annually in 2021, and $47,892 annually in 2022.  Thereafter, the salary threshold will continue to increase every three years.

The Governor’s office estimates the proposed changes will increase the wages of 460,000 workers in Pennsylvania.  While the proposed changes have not yet been passed and would not take place for some time, employers should always be aware of the potential for significant change in wage and hour laws.  It is important that employers plan well in advance for such significant change to manage their own business finances and avoid costly wage and hour violations.

Christopher M. Curci, Esq., is a Pennsylvania and New Jersey Labor and Employment Attorney and member of Freeman Mathis & Gary’s Labor and Employment Law National Practice Section.  He represents employers in litigation and advises clients on all aspects of employment law.  If you need help with this or any other employment issue, he can be reached at [email protected].