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Young v. Cooper Cameron Corp.

November 12, 2009

ANDREW YOUNG, PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE,
v.
COOPER CAMERON CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



SYLLABUS BY THE COURT

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (Swain, J.) held on summary judgment that, as a matter of law, plaintiff-appellee Andrew Young ("Young"), a Product Design Specialist, was outside the "professional exemption" to the overtime requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act. Following a bench trial, the court (Conti, J.) found that Cameron's violation of the FLSA was willful.

Cameron appeals both the exemption and the willfulness determinations. We affirm.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Dennis Jacobs, Chief Judge

Argued: September 9, 2009

Before: JACOBS, Chief Judge, POOLER and PARKER, Circuit Judges.

The overtime requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA" or "the Act") are subject to an exemption for persons "employed in a bona fide... professional capacity," 29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1), which is defined by regulation as work in "a field of science or learning customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction and study." 29 C.F.R. § 541.3(a)(1).*fn1 Andrew Young worked for three years as a "Product Design Specialist II" ("PDS II") for Cooper Cameron Corporation ("Cameron"). When hired, Young had approximately 20 years of engineering-type experience, and his work at Cameron involved complicated technical expertise and responsibility. Like all of the other PDS IIs, however, Young lacked any formal education beyond a high school diploma.

Young was not paid overtime because Cameron had classified PDS IIs as exempt professionals under the FLSA. After losing his job in 2004 due to a reduction-in-force, Young sued Cameron under the FLSA, alleging that his classification as an exempt professional willfully violated the Act.

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York (Swain, J.) granted summary judgment in Young's favor on the ground that he was not an exempt professional. Cameron's violation of the FLSA was found to be willful after a bench trial (Conti, J.). Cameron appeals both the exemption and the willfulness determinations.

We now affirm, concluding that as a matter of law Young is not an exempt professional and that Cameron willfully violated the FLSA.

I.

Young is a high school graduate. He enrolled in some courses at various universities, but did not obtain a degree. Before he was hired by Cameron, he worked for 20 years in the engineering field as a draftsman, detailer, and designer. He was a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, a membership that required the recommendation of three engineers. For three of the 20 years, Young worked with what are known as hydraulic power units ("HPUs").

In the spring of 2001, Young applied for a job with Cameron, and he was offered the position of Mechanical Designer in the HPU group. This position paid an hourly wage of $26 and was classified as non-exempt under the FLSA. Young, seeking higher pay, declined.

Soon after, Young met again with Cameron. This time, Cameron offered to hire him as a PDS II--a position that Cameron had determined, through multiple internal and external analyses, was exempt from the FLSA's overtime provisions. This job paid an annual salary of $62,000 (an effective hourly wage of $29.81). Applicants were required to have twelve years of relevant experience; but no particular kind or amount of education was required, and no PDS II had a college degree. Young accepted Cameron's offer on July 23, 2001, understanding that the position was exempt from the FLSA's overtime provisions. For his three-year tenure at Cameron, Young worked as a PDS II in the HPU group.

HPUs contain fluid under pressure for use in connection with oil drilling rigs. They are large and complex, and they are subject to a variety of industry standards, codes, and government specifications. Young was the principal person in charge of drafting plans for HPUs. This work required depth of knowledge and experience, and entailed considerable responsibility and discretion. For example, Young assimilated layers and types of specifications into a safe, functional, and serviceable design that met consumer demands, engineering requirements, and industry standards. Young personally selected various structural components of the HPU and modified certain specifications to account for new technology. In these ways, Young operated at the center of both the conceptual and physical processes of HPU creation and development.

On August 2, 2004, after losing his job in a reduction-in-force, Young sued Cameron in federal court, alleging that Cameron had improperly and willfully classified him as an exempt professional. The district court, adopting a report and recommendation from the magistrate judge (Gorenstein, M.J.), granted partial summary judgment to Young on the exemption issue. The court held as a matter of law that the work of a PDS II is "not of an advanced type in a field of science or learning customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction and study."

A bench trial followed as to whether Cameron's FLSA violation was willful. The district court found that Cameron willfully violated the FLSA by "hir[ing] Young into the exempt PDS II position instead of the non-exempt Mechanical Designer position in order to avoid paying him overtime, even though his responsibilities did not change based on the different titles." Because Cameron's violation was willful, the court ...


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