Class Action, Minimum Wage

Managers Are Not Exempt Unless They Make $41,600!

Most employers know that California requires them to pay every employee at least $10 per hour.  Did you realize that an increase in minimum wage requires an increase in salary for exempt managers?  If not, listen up.

Exempt white collar employees must meet certain criteria to be considered exempt.  Probably the most important is the minimum salary level.  Exempt employees must make two times the minimum wage in a theoretical 40-hour work week.  Forty hours per week equals 2080 hours per year (52 weeks x 40 hours).  That means the minimum salary an exempt employee must make is $41,600 (2 x $10 x 2080 hours).  Thus, California requires all managers to make at least $41,600 to be an exempt employee.  Of course, that is also the minimum salary for all other white collar exemptions, unless a particular exemption has a different minimum wage requirement.  For instance, an exempt computer professional must be paid at least $41.85 per hour or at least an $87,185.14 salary per year.  Each year the computer professional wage rates increase according to the yearly percentage increase in the California Consumer Price Index.

I believe that the minimum salary level is the most important criteria to meet for exempt employees because it is the easiest criteria to challenge in a misclassification case.  If a manager is not paid the minimum salary, then that manager simply is not exempt.  If that manager later brings a lawsuit for unpaid overtime, then the employer will lose and will owe back wages, assuming the manager actually worked overtime hours.  Most of the other exemption criteria are not as clearly discernable.

Misclassification cases often create class action liability if enough managers or other exempt employees do not receive the minimum salary.  In both individual claims and class action claims, the prevailing employees are entitled to attorney’s fees.

Employers, I highly recommend that all the managers that you want to classify as exempt make at least $41,600 per year.  Employees, if you are exempt, make sure that you are making the minimum salary.  Local wage laws that have higher minimum wage requirements also increase minimum salaries for exempt employees.  Los Angeles, for instance, will have a minimum wage rate of $10.50 per hour starting on July 1, 2016.  The corresponding minimum salary will be $43,680 (2 x $10.50 x 2080 hours).

I am available to consult with anyone who has a question about the required minimum salary or other exempt employee requirements.  Call me at (858) 292-0792.

Class Action, Discrimination, WalMart


Undoubtedly, some Americans love WalMart while others have a strong dislike for it.  Many shoppers love the low prices WalMart offers.  On the other hand, labor unions have attacked WalMart repeatedly for fighting efforts to unionize it.  In fact, many employees have sued WalMart because of claimed unfair treatment.  Some of those cases are described below.

Recently in the news, Saturday Night Live actor, Tracy Morgan, sued WalMart because one of its trucks had hit Morgan’s limousine.  The crash killed fellow comedian James McNair.  Morgan suffered serious bodily injury.  Apparently, the WalMart driver, Kevin Roper, had been driving for more than 24 hours consecutively.  Morgan claimed that driving for such a long period of time was negligent and that WalMart knew of that negligent behavior.

Although not an accident case, WalMart settled, in 2009, a case filed by potential driver applicants for $17.5 Million.  (Nelson v. WalMart.)  The applicants claimed that WalMart had denied them positions in the company because they were African-American.  They, and the other applicants, had been required to provide credit ratings.  Apparently, those ratings denied African-Americans positions as  drivers more routinely than non-African-Americans.

In California, twenty-thousand WalMart cashiers claimed that they should have been provided seats to sit on during their shifts.  WalMart appealed after a federal judge certified the case. The parties are now waiting for the Ninth Circuit to decide whether the law in California requires WalMart to provide those seats.  That pending case is: Brown v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc.

Another California case, and probably the most significant case involving WalMart, is WalMart v. Dukes.  The Plaintiff, Dukes, was a female employee.  She said that WalMart had wrongfully denied her promotions because of her gender.  She alleged that WalMart had an institutional bias against women.  Statistically, WalMart’s labor force was made up of approximately 70% women, while only about 30% of its managers were women.  Regardless, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the case could not proceed as a class action on behalf of 1.5 million women.  According to the Supreme Court, WalMart store managers had much discretion in determining the amount of money each employee could earn and the criterion used to promote employees.  Because of that discretion, the managers had likely decided to promote or not to promote  women employees for many various reasons, depending on the circumstances.  Thus, no single reason for not promoting women could be consistently applied throughout all the WalMart stores, and, according to the Court, the case could not be certified as a class action because the reasons for not promoting women would vary too much.

Later, the potential California class members tried to certify a much small class that was only made up of female employees in California, rather than employees from across the country.  The federal judge denied certification again and cited the Supreme Court holding in Dukes to support his decision.  Essentially, the Court said that the class, even though smaller, still suffered from the same problem.  There was no common reason for denying women promotions amongst all the stores in California.  The Court denied certification even though it said that the employees “had amassed substantial evidence of discrimination against women that occurred at Wal-Mart stores”.  Regardless, that was not enough to allow Dukes to represent the entire class against WalMart.  Presumably, the female employees would need to file each of their cases separately.