Continuing its line of common sense interpretations of the administrative exemption, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit has ruled that an insurance company employee tasked with maintaining an in-depth understanding of particular insurance products and training sales staff on those products was an administratively exempt employee. Blanchar v. Std. Ins. Co., 2013 U.S. App. LEXIS 23854 (7th Cir. Nov. 27, 2013).
Plaintiff Blanchar, who held the title of Director of Institutional Sales/Product Manager, argued that he was not an exempt administrative employee because he performed sales work, and he did not exercise the requisite discretion and independent judgment. The Circuit, citing its prior opinion in Schaefer-LaRose v. Eli Lilly & Co., 679 F.3d 560 (7th Cir. 2012) and the First Circuit’s earlier decision in Reich v. John Alden Life Ins. Co., 126 F.3d 1 (1st Cir. 1997), disagreed, finding that he did not “directly engage in sales” but “merely assisted salespeople with those sales” and that he “was involved in advising salespeople and promoting the sales” of his products. As to the discretion and independent judgment requirement, the Court expressly found that “Blanchar’s duties—promoting sales, advising sales staff, and fielding questions—required the exercise of discretion and independent judgment.” In conducting the exemption analysis, the Blanchar Court did not reference its related 2008 industry decision in Roe-Midgett v. CC Servs., Inc., 512 F.3d 865, 870 (7th Cir. 2008)(adjusters qualified for administrative exemption), relying instead on its more recent Eli Lilly decision and its analysis of the pharmaceutical sales representative position.
Seventh Circuit authority continues to support the exempt classification of many insurance professionals who receive the requisite salary in accordance with the FLSA’s salary basis test and work autonomously. Exemption analysis—particularly administrative exemption analysis—unfortunately remains fact and jurisdiction specific.