Employment-Second Circuit Rules That A Product Design Specialist Is Entitled To Overtime

In Young v. Cooper Cameron Corp., No. 08-5847 (Second Circuit 2009), the Court faced the issue of whether a product design specialist fell outside the “professional exemption” from the overtime requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act (the “FLSA”) . In this case, the plaintiff, Andrew Young (“Young”), had worked for the defendant, Cooper Cameron Corp. (“Cooper”), for three years as a product design specialist. When hired, Young had approximately 20 years of engineering-type experience, and his work at Cooper had involved complicated technical expertise and responsibility. However, Young lacked any formal education beyond a high school diploma.

In analyzing the case, the Court said that the overtime requirements of the FLSA are subject to an exemption (found at 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1)) for persons employed in a bona fide professional capacity. Under the regulations (at 29 C.F.R. § 541.3(a)(1) and 541.301) a bona fide professional capacity is defined as work requiring knowledge of an advanced type in a field of science or learning customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction and study, as distinguished from a general academic education, an apprenticeship, or training in the performance of routine mental, manual, or physical processes. This type of instruction cannot be obtained at the high school level.

The Court concluded that, based on the foregoing, to qualify for the professional exemption, the job in question must require knowledge customarily acquired by a prolonged course of advanced intellectual study. The plaintiff’s job-product design specialist-did not require such knowledge or study. The professional exemption does not apply to employees who have acquired their skill by experience rather than by advanced intellectual study. Therefore, the professional exemption does not apply to the plaintiff, and he is entitled to overtime under the FLSA.