Ninth Circuit Asks CA Supremes for Guidance on Wage and Hour

The Ninth Circuit has before it three cases involving pharmaceutical sales representatives. These folks visit with doctors and give them information on medications. The Ninth Circuit wants to know if these employees count as "outside salespersons" under California law. So, they asked the California Supreme Court for an opinion:

1. The Industrial Welfare Commission’s Wage Orders 1-2001 and 4-2001 define “outside salesperson” to mean “any person, 18 years of age or over, who customarily and regularly works more than half the working time away from the employer’s place of business selling tangible or intangible items or obtaining orders or contracts for products, services or use of facilities.” 8 Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8, §§ 11010, subd. 2(J); 11040, subd. 2(M). Does a pharmaceutical sales representative (PSR) qualify as an “outside salesperson” under this definition, if the PSR spends more than half the working time away from the employer’s place of business and personally interacts with doctors and hospitals on behalf of drug companies for the purpose of increasing individual doctors’ prescriptions of specific drugs?

If the sales representatives don't qualify as outside salespersons, because they don't take orders or actually sell the medications, the court wants to know if they qualify as "administrative" employees:

2. In the alternative, Wage Order 4-2001 defines a person employed in an
administrative capacity as a person whose duties and responsibilities involve (among other things) “[t]he performance of office or non-manual work directly related to management policies or general business operations of his/her employer or his employer’s customers” and “[w]ho customarily and regularly exercises discretion and independent judgment.” Cal. Code Regs., tit. 8 § 11040, subd. 1(A)(2)(a)(I), 1(A)(2)(b). Is a PSR, as described above, involved in duties and responsibilities that meet these requirements

The Ninth Circuit seeks guidance on the administrative test because California case law is sparse on what it means to "exercise discretion and independent judgment" for the administrative exemption, and whether the PSRs are involved in "office or non-manual work directly related ot management policies or general business operations" of Bayer's customers. The court appears to believe that California law on outside salespersons differs from the federal test under the FLSA such that reliance on FLSA cases would be of "limited" assistance.

The Supreme Court does not have to answer the questions. If the Court chooses not to, then the case will return to the Ninth Circuit for a prediction on how the Supreme Court would rule. Otherwise, this case could provide needed guidance in this area of wage and hour law.

The case is D'Este v. Bayer Corporation and the opinion/request for answers is here.