Bookselling giant Barnes & Noble was denied summary judgment on a case that is currently being heard in New York but that had its beginnings in California. According to the complaint, the company is accused of misclassifying employees as exempt in order to avoid paying overtime.
Barnes & Noble managers are properly exempt from being paid overtime because they perform “managerial tasks” that place them above other employees. But the company is accused of violating the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for classifying their assistant managers the same way. Although the plaintiffs concede they did perform some tasks that could be considered managerial, they were responsible for many of the same routine tasks non-exempt employees were. In addition, they had no real authority over other employees. Misclassifying employees is a common mistake. For an employee to be considered exempt according to the FLSA, they must perform non-manual work and have authority over others.
The case heard successfully in California was based on state labor law and prompted the bookseller to change their policy regarding the classification of assistant managers–but only in California. The change was not made in other states until much later.
The request for a summary judgment came as a result of the company’s eventual national compliance with the law in 2010. Since the current New York suit was brought in 2013, Barnes & Noble argued that the case was outside the usual FLSA two-year statute of limitations. But the statute of limitations can be extended to three years when a violation is found to be willful, and the judge in this case ruled that since Barnes & Noble took half a decade to reclassify the assistant managers, a jury could at least consider the possibility that their actions were willful.