“I Blew Off My Exempt Duties” Insufficient To Establish Jury Question.

Slackers everywhere may have shed a tear in their Doritos on Friday after reading the Eleventh Circuit’s decision in Reyes v. Goya Foods, Inc., Case No. 13-12827 (11th Cir. 12/6/13)

The plaintiff in Reyes sought to bring an FLSA collective action against the defendant on behalf of himself and other similarly situated “sales brokers” that the defendant employed.  The sales brokers were responsible for promoting and selling the employer’s products at retail food outlets within their territory.  At trial, the employer called two sales brokers as witnesses who testified that they were given weekly sales goals, rarely reported to the defendant’s offices, set their own schedules and regularly sought to secure additional orders and better product placements from the outlets for which they were responsible.

Here’s the interesting part of the case.  Based on the Eleventh Circuit’s opinion, the plaintiff appears to have done little to contest this evidence.  Instead, he testified that he personally was pretty much satisfied to wipe down shelves and rotate inventory, and wasn’t too interested in the sales/promotion part of his job.  (Oddly enough, he filed the case after being fired.  Go figure.)  According to the plaintiff, he did not have discretion in regard to the pricing of the items he sold, so he wasn’t a salesman.

Affirming a directed verdict in Goya’s favor, the Eleventh Circuit found that the plaintiff’s arguments didn’t amount to a hill of beans.  (C’mon, we’ve certainly used worse puns on this blog.)  In affirming the judgment, the Eleventh Circuit noted that, “although Reyes may have personally spent little time promoting Goya products — his position as a sales broker at Goya qualified him as an ‘outside salesman’ under the FLSA.”  Slip Op. at 5, emphasis added.

The Reyes decision reflects the importance of evidence demonstrating the employer’s expectations from employees in exempt positions.  Job descriptions are certainly helpful in this regard.  Even more crucial, however, is evidence that the employer holds employees accountable for actually performing the exempt duties listed in a job description as the primary focus of their position.  In Reyes, that evidence came from other employees in the job classification.  But, such evidence can just as easily be found in performance reviews, self-evaluations, offer letters, raise letters, status reports and a variety of other sources.

The Bottom Line: Evidence that an employer holds exempt employees accountable for actually performing exempt duties can be critical.