United States: Supreme Court Rejects Narrow Interpretation Of FLSA Statutory Exemptions

Phillip M Schreiber is Partner in Holland & Knight's Chicago office

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • In Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Hector Navarro, et al., the U.S. Supreme Court decided 5-4 that service advisors at car dealerships are exempt from overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).
  • The Court held that service advisors fall under the FLSA overtime pay exemption for "any salesman, partsman, or mechanic" primarily engaged in selling or serving automobiles" at a covered dealership.
  • Critically, the court rejected the practice of construing FLSA statutory exemptions narrowly. Although the core holding of this opinion is relevant only to car dealerships, the Court's reasoning potentially has far broader implications for how other FLSA exemptions should be interpreted.

The U.S. Supreme Court on April 2, 2018, issued its opinion in Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Hector Navarro, et al., No. 16-1362, 584 U.S. __ (2018). The case involved the question of whether service advisors (employees at car dealerships who consult with customers regarding their vehicle servicing needs and sell them servicing solutions) fall under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) overtime pay exemption for "any salesman, partsman, or mechanic primarily engaged in selling or serving automobiles" at a covered dealership. 29 U.S.C. 213(b)(10)(A). In a 5-4 decision, the Court held that service advisors are exempt from overtime pay.

Plain Meaning Should Be Given to Undefined Statutory Terms

Although the core holding of this opinion is relevant only to car dealerships, the Court's reasoning potentially has far broader implications for how other FLSA exemptions should be interpreted. The Court framed the issue as whether service advisors are "salesm[e]n. . . primarily engaged in . . . servicing automobiles" and concluded that they are. The Court explained that "[u]nder the best reading of the text, service advisors are "salesm[e]n," and they are "primarily engaged in . . . servicing automobiles." (emphasis added). Critically, the court rejected the practice of construing FLSA exemptions narrowly.

In focusing on the plain reading of the text of the statute, the court gave the term "salesman" its ordinary meaning, citing the definitions in The Oxford English Dictionary and The Random House Dictionary of the English Language. Importantly, the Court observed that the FLSA did not otherwise define the term "salesman" or, presumably, the Court would have deferred to the statutory definition. Based on the ordinary meaning of the term "salesman" – one who sells goods or services – the Court easily concluded that service advisors meet the ordinary definition of a "salesman" because they sell customers services for their vehicles. Slip Op., 6.

Although service advisors do not sell cars, the Court held that they "service" cars. The Court gave a plain reading to the term "servicing," again citing to the Oxford and Random House dictionaries (the action of maintaining or serving a vehicle, or the action of providing service). The Court concluded that service advisors meet both definitions because they meet with customers, listen to their concerns, suggest repair or maintenance services, sell new accessories or replacement parts, record service orders, and explain the repair and maintenance work performed on the vehicle. The Court acknowledged that service advisors do not spend much time under the hood but gave a broad reading to the phrase "primarily engaged ... servicing automobiles" by concluding that this "must include some individuals who do not physically repair automobiles themselves but who are integrally involved in the servicing process." Slip Op., 7.

FLSA Statutory Exemptions Should Not Be Construed Narrowly

The Court then went on to reject the manner in which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit interpreted the statutory language; in particular, how it read the term "or" in the context of the statutory text. Of greater relevance to most employers is that the Court also rejected the Ninth Circuit's invocation of the principle that exemptions to the FLSA should be construed narrowly. Specifically, the Court held, "We reject this principle as a useful guidepost for interpreting the FLSA. Because the FLSA gives no 'textual indication' that its exemptions should be construed narrowly, there is no reason to give them anything other than a fair (rather than a 'narrow') interpretation....The narrow-construction principle relies on the flawed premise that the FLSA 'pursues' its remedial purpose 'at all costs.' " Slip op., 9 (internal citations omitted).

The Court went on to explain, "the FLSA has over two dozen exemptions in §213(b) alone, including the one at issue here. Those exemptions are as much a part of the FLSA's purpose as the overtime-pay requirement. ... We thus have no license to give the exemption anything but a fair reading." Id.

Implications for Employers

Although this case involved a very specific exemption not relevant to most employers, the Court's reasoning suggests that exemptions of a broader application such as the white collar exemptions (executive, administrative, professional, computer professional and outside salesperson) may be open to broader application then courts currently afford those exemptions.

In particular, employers may find that the administrative exemption – the exemption that vexes most employers – will cover more employees if courts dispense with the narrow construction principle. Of course, the white collar exemptions are primarily creatures of regulation rather than statutory text, so it remains to be seen how Encino Motors will be applied.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on Mondaq.com.

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Authors
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Masuda, Funai, Eifert & Mitchell, Ltd.
 
In association with
Related Topics
 
Similar Articles
Relevancy Powered by MondaqAI
Masuda, Funai, Eifert & Mitchell, Ltd.
Related Articles
 
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Tools
Print
Font Size:
Translation
Channels
Mondaq on Twitter
 
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
 
Email Address
Company Name
Password
Confirm Password
Position
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Accounting
 Anti-trust
 Commercial
 Compliance
 Consumer
 Criminal
 Employment
 Energy
 Environment
 Family
 Finance
 Government
 Healthcare
 Immigration
 Insolvency
 Insurance
 International
 IP
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Litigation
 Media & IT
 Privacy
 Real Estate
 Strategy
 Tax
 Technology
 Transport
 Wealth Mgt
Regions
Africa
Asia
Asia Pacific
Australasia
Canada
Caribbean
Europe
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
U.K.
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions

Mondaq.com (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of www.mondaq.com

To Use Mondaq.com you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.

Disclaimer

The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.

General

Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions