Solis v. State of Washington, 656 F.3d 1079 (9th Cir. 2011)

The U.S. Secretary of Labor filed a complaint against the State of Washington’s Department of Social and Health Services (“DSHS”), alleging a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (“FLSA”) based upon the DSHS’s classification of its social workers as “learned professionals” exempt from the FLSA’s overtime pay requirements. The district court granted DSHS’s motion for summary judgment, but the Ninth Circuit reversed. In order to satisfy the “learned professional” exemption, an employer must show that a position requires advanced knowledge customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction. The Ninth Circuit held that because the social worker positions at issue in this case require only a degree in one of several diverse academic disciplines or sufficient coursework in any of those disciplines, DSHS had failed to meet its burden of showing the social work positions “plainly and unmistakably” met the regulatory requirement. See also Kairy v. SuperShuttle Int’l, 660 F.3d 1146 (2011) (federal district court has subject matter jurisdiction to determine whether passenger stage corporation drivers are employees or independent contractors under California law).