Pickers.jpgCo-authored by Rob Whitman and Adam Smiley

The Second Circuit has affirmed a grant of summary judgment in a case raising the executive exemption, a relatively rare employer victory in an FLSA case from this court in recent years.

The issue in Ramos v. Baldor Speciality Foods was whether a class of “warehouse captains” who supervised nearly identical subdivisions of workers were properly classified as executives.  The plaintiffs were in charge of supervising teams of three to six “pickers.”  Pickers were responsible for retrieving food products from warehouse shelves and loading them onto trucks to be delivered to customers.  The teams of pickers performed the same general tasks, during the same shift, in the same warehouse.

Under the FLSA, one of the defining characteristics of an executive is management over a “department or subdivision.”  A valid subdivision has a “permanent status and a continuing function, as opposed to a mere collection of employees assigned from time to time to a specific job or series of jobs.” The Ramos plaintiffs argued that a subdivision must have “at least some sort of functional independence from other subdivisions in the same department and does not fall within the exemption if it performs the same role in the same location at the same time.”

The Second Circuit disagreed, stressing that there was no requirement that a department or subdivision operate in different locations, shifts, or have varied functions.  While those characteristics may help define a department, they are not mandatory.  The Court also held that “the job of supervising a team of employees becomes no less managerial merely because the team operates alongside other teams performing the same work in the same building.”  Accordingly, the Court held that the teams of pickers were valid subdivisions under the FLSA, and thus the warehouse captains who supervised them were properly exempted as executives.

This case demonstrates the nuances of the FLSA exemptions, especially where the workers’ job responsibilities (in this case, warehouse captains) do not fit those typically associated with an “executive.”