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By: Brad Adler & Hillary Freesmeier
While retail employers have tightened up their wage and hour practices, there are still too many companies in the retail industry, including fast food and fast casual employers, that have failed to take inventory of their compliance with current wage and hour laws. One such example is how some retail employers classify their assistant managers. For years, there have been contentious fights over whether assistant managers can be classified as exempt under the administrative exemption.
And that fight continues as a federal judge in the District of Columbia has granted conditional certification of a nationwide collective and D.C. collective of Panera bread assistant managers who have sued the national chain for alleged denial of overtime wages under both the Fair Labor Standards Act and the District of Columbia Minimum Wage Act.
In conditionally certifying the collectives, U.S. Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey found that the plaintiffs had presented sufficient evidence that the assistant managers were classified as exempt from FLSA overtime provisions, but the bulk of the work they performed was nonmanagerial – a reminder that under the FLSA an employee’s duties, not title, determine exemption status. The plaintiffs assert that their assistant manager training focused on nonmanagerial tasks that involved customer service, cashiering, food preparation, and cleaning, while general managers took on the actual managerial work, and management issues such as budgets, prices, restaurant layouts, marketing and promotion strategies, hours of operation, and dress code were set by Panera’s corporate headquarters.
This suit is not the first Panera has seen in relation to assistant managers and overtime pay in recent months. In February of this year, Covelli Enterprises, a Panera franchisee which owns and operates approximately 260 Panera bakery-cafes in five states and Ontario, Canada, was sued in an Ohio federal court by a proposed class of assistant managers alleging they were improperly classified as exempt and deprived of overtime wages. This action is still pending. Additionally, in June a federal judge in New Jersey conditionally certified a collective action by Panera assistant managers with similar claims.
As these cases develop, employers and franchisees should be mindful of their management structure and duty assignments to ensure FLSA compliance. These suits serve as a reminder that FLSA exemption does not necessarily rest on an employee’s title, but their duties and responsibilities within their role.
If you have any questions or would like more information, please contact Brad Adler at firstname.lastname@example.org or Hillary Freesmeier at email@example.com.