Kadden v. VisuaLex, LLC, No. 11-CV-4892(SAS) (S.D.N.Y. Sept. 24, 2012, Sheindlin, J.): The plaintiff, a law school graduate, brought suit against her former employer, VisuaLex, LLC, seeking to recover unpaid overtime and liquidated damages under the Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law. Kadden earned her Juris Doctor in 2001 and worked for VisuaLex from 2008 through 2011 as a Litigation Graphics Consultant, earning $75,000 per year. VisuaLex argued that Kadden was exempt from overtime requirements under three categories of exemption: the creative professional exemption, the learned professional exemption, and/or the administrative employee exemption. After a bench trial wherein the court engaged in a thorough analysis of the conflicting evidence provided by both parties regarding the plaintiff’s job duties, Judge Shira Sheindlin held that the plaintiff was entitled to overtime pay because the work that she performed did not qualify as exempt under any of the proffered exemptions. The court emphasized that employers cannot rely on job titles alone to satisfy the exempt status of an employee, and instead must engage in an analysis of the employee’s salary and job duties. Importantly, the court did not award liquidated damages because the company had gone to considerable lengths to ascertain whether graphics consultants were exempt from overtime requirements and had classified the plaintiff in good faith. The court explained that the company based its decision on its “genuinely held belief in what the primary duties of a graphics consultant were, notwithstanding the fact that several graphics consultants at VisuaLex did not ultimately perform those duties.”
The decision reinforces the fact that employers must engage in a detailed analysis of each employee’s job duties when making classification decisions rather than rely solely on an employee’s title. Even if a court rules that the employees were misclassified, a detailed and well-documented analysis may help the company demonstrate good faith and avoid liquidated damages.