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Loan Underwriters Are ‘Production’ Employees Eligible for Overtime, Court Rules

 

Our Chicago overtime rights lawyers were interested in a recent wage and hour decision out of the Second Circuit. In Whalen v. J. P. Morgan Chase Co., No. 08-4092 (2nd. Cir. Nov. 20, 2009), a group of loan underwriters sued J.P. Morgan Chase, their employer, for unpaid overtime in a proposed class action. The plaintiffs contended that they were misclassified as administrative employees, because their duties did not meet the federal Department of Labor’s definition of administrative duties. The district court in New York disagreed and granted summary judgment for Chase. But the Second Circuit reversed that judgment, saying loan underwriters cannot be exempt administrative employees because their work furthered Chase’s core business of making loans, rather than helping to run or direct the company.

For four years, plaintiff Andrew Whalen worked for Chase as an underwriter. His job was to evaluate whether to grant loans to individuals, using detailed guidelines provided by Chase. Some underwriters were sometimes permitted to deviate from these standards. Whalen contended that he frequently worked more than 40 hours a week, but Chase classified him as an administrative employee exempt from the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Whalen eventually sued for a declaratory judgment that Chase violated the FLSA by failing to pay overtime, but Chase prevailed on cross-motions for summary judgment. Whalen appealed.

The Second started by looking at the definition of administrative employees. The federal Department of Labor says administrative work is “directly related to management policies or general business operations” and “customarily and regularly exercises discretion and independent judgment.” Using a variety of documents from the Department on the financial services industry, the court drew a distinction between exempt employees with advisory duties and non-exempt employees who carry out the employer’s day-to-day operations.

Whalen’s job was to sell loans according to Chase’s detailed standards, the court wrote, not to advise customers on which loans to get. This puts the job firmly on the “production” side of Chase’s business, the court wrote, as distinct from management duties or “general business operations” such as human resources. Furthermore, the Second wrote, Chase itself referred to underwriters’ duties as “production” work. In doing so, the court drew a distinction between “production” and “administrative” work supported by its own past decision in Reich v. State of New York, 3 F.3d 581 (2d Cir. 1993) as well as by precedents in the Ninth, Third and First Circuits. Whalen’s job did not met the management/general business operations test set forth by the Department of Labor, the court wrote, which is enough to conclude that he was not a bona fide administrative employee. Thus, the Second Circuit reversed the trial court’s summary judgment decision.


In our work as Illinois and nationwide wage and hour attorneys, we frequently see workers who have been misclassified as exempt from overtime. Whether this was an honest mistake or an intentional attempt to save money, it effectively “steals” wages from the misclassified employees. DiTommaso-Lubin stands up for the rights of workers in Chicago, Illinois and throughout the country who are victims of overtime wage theft, including misclassified employees as well as those pressured to work off the clock; lie on timesheets; or simply not paid an overtime rate. Our Oak Brook, Waukegan, Wheaton, Northbrook, Aurora, Elgin, Joliet and Chicago unpaid overtime lawyers handle both individual and class action employment cases. Based in Chicago and Oak Brook, Ill., we represent clients throughout Illinois, the Midwest and the United States.

If you know you’re not getting paid the overtime you’re owed, you should talk to DiTommaso-Lubin right away. To tell us about your case and learn more about how we can help, please contact us through our Web site or call 1-877-990-4990 toll-free today.