Judge William Terrell Hodges of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida recently ruled that an employee with an LPN degree who was responsible for managing an employer’s workers’ compensation claims qualified for the administrative exemption. Hodge v. ClosetMaid Corp., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 45490 (M.D. Fla. Apr. 2, 2014).
In Hodge, Plaintiff did not work as a nurse, but utilized her medical expertise as the company’s “[O]ccupational Nurse . . . responsible for establishing, promoting, coordinating, and recommending treatment plans for all workers’ compensation claimants . . . with the ultimate goal of ensuring optimal care is given in a cost effective manner.” Judge Hodges ruled both that this was administrative function related to the general business operations of ClosetMaid, and that the plaintiff exercised discretion and independent judgment as she “made recommendations to the [insurance plan’s] third-party administrator, to legal counsel and to her supervisors concerning whether to settle claims, and whether to place an employee under surveillance. Moreover, she prepared her department’s budget, attended mediation conferences where she was given settlement authority, and proposed changes to several employee policies.” In the Court’s view, performing these duties in the context of managing the company’s $850,000 annual workers compensation expense constituted discretion and independent judgment.
Discretion and independent judgment within the context of the administrative exemption continues to be a source of litigation. The presence (or lack thereof) of the hallmark examples identified in Hodge – interfacing directly with important contacts outside the organization and making significant recommendations regarding how to proceed – are important for employers, human resources and legal departments to consider when classifying workers.