656 F.3d 1079 (9th Cir. 2011), 10-35590, Solis v. Washington

Docket Nº:10-35590.
Citation:656 F.3d 1079
Opinion Judge:FOGEL, District Judge:
Party Name:Hilda L. SOLIS, Secretary of Labor, United States Department of Labor, Plaintiff-Appellant, v. State of WASHINGTON, Dep't of Soc. & Health Servs., Defendant-Appellee.
Attorney:M. Patricia Smith, Solicitor of Labor; William C. Lesser, Acting Associate Solicitor; Paul L. Frieden, Counsel for Appellate Litigation; Rachel Goldberg, Attorney, for the plaintiff-appellant. Robert M. McKenna, Washington State Attorney General; Kara A. Larsen, Assistant Attorney General Labor a...
Judge Panel:Before: JOHN T. NOONAN and MILAN D. SMITH, JR., Circuit Judges, and JEREMY FOGEL, District Judge.[*]
Case Date:September 09, 2011
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
 
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Page 1079

656 F.3d 1079 (9th Cir. 2011)

Hilda L. SOLIS, Secretary of Labor, United States Department of Labor, Plaintiff-Appellant,

v.

State of WASHINGTON, Dep't of Soc. & Health Servs., Defendant-Appellee.

No. 10-35590.

United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit.

September 9, 2011

Argued and Submitted Aug. 1, 2011.

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[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

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M. Patricia Smith, Solicitor of Labor; William C. Lesser, Acting Associate Solicitor; Paul L. Frieden, Counsel for Appellate Litigation; Rachel Goldberg, Attorney, for the plaintiff-appellant.

Robert M. McKenna, Washington State Attorney General; Kara A. Larsen, Assistant Attorney General Labor and Personnel Division, Olympia, WA, Patrick Madden, K& L Gates LLP, Special Assistant Attorney General, Seattle, WA, for the defendant-appellee.

Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington, Benjamin H. Settle, District Judge, Presiding. D.C. No. 3:08-cv-05479-BHS.

Before: JOHN T. NOONAN and MILAN D. SMITH, JR., Circuit Judges, and JEREMY FOGEL, District Judge.[*]

OPINION

FOGEL, District Judge:

The Secretary of Labor 1 has filed a complaint against the State of Washington, Department of Social and Health Services (" DSHS" ), alleging that DSHS has failed to pay overtime compensation to certain social workers in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq. (" FLSA" ). The district court granted summary judgment in favor of DSHS, concluding that the social workers come within the " learned professional" exemption to the FLSA's overtime pay requirements. The Secretary appeals.

To avail itself of the " learned professional" exemption, an employer must show that a position requires advanced knowledge customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction. Because the social worker positions at issue here require only a degree in one of several diverse academic disciplines or sufficient coursework in any of those disciplines, we conclude that DSHS has not met its burden of showing that its social worker positions " plainly and unmistakably" meet the regulatory requirement. Accordingly, we reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I.

DSHS is a public agency created by the Washington legislature to " integrate and coordinate all those activities involving provision of care for individuals who, as a result of their economic, social or health condition, require financial assistance, institutional care, rehabilitation or other social and health services."

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Wash. Rev.Code § 43.20A.010. The Children's Administration is an agency within DSHS tasked with the mission of protecting abused and neglected children. It employs social workers in forty-four field offices who identify the needs of children and families and arrange for services to assure their safety and well-being. While the work of individual social workers varies, their responsibilities include investigating child abuse and neglect, developing and recommending appropriate treatment plans to courts, evaluating child and family progress in meeting treatment plans, making placement decisions, and recommending whether parental rights should be terminated.

DSHS asserts that it has established " rigorous educational qualifications" for its social workers. Candidates for Social Worker 2 must have at least a " [b]achelor's degree or higher in social services, human services, behavioral sciences, or an allied field," as well as eighteen months as a Social Worker 1 or two years' experience in an equivalent position. Candidates for Social Worker 3 must meet the same educational requirements and have additional work experience. Within one year of their appointment, new employees in these positions must complete a formal training program that includes four weeks of classroom instruction and two weeks of field instruction.

DSHS uses an internal document entitled " Social Worker Minimum Qualifications Cheat Sheet" to assess whether candidates meet the educational requirements. That document sets out the degree requirements as follows:

Education/Degrees:

Social Services, human services, behavioral sciences or allied field (Not Social Science)

Acceptable: Counseling, Psych[ology], Social Work, Human Services, Sociology, Child Development, Family Studies, Pastoral Counseling, Anthropology, Gerontology, Therapeutic Recreation, Education, Therapeutic Fields, Criminal Justice.

Not Acceptable: History, Economics, Civics, Philosophy, Communications, Archeology, Nursing, Theology, Pastoral Studies, Religion, Recreation, Women's Studies, Native American Studies, Public Administration, Political Science, Law & Justice, Human Resources, Leisure Studies, Physical Education, Law Enforcement, Liberal Arts.

(Note: These Courses would most often be acceptable under the broader heading of Social Sciences and upon review of transcripts if either 30 semester hours or 45 quarter credits were found that fall under Social Services, they could be accepted for Social Workers)

Business Administration, Computer Science, Natural Sciences, Physical Sciences, Math, Fine Arts, General Studies.

According to the DSHS manager in charge of screening applicants, " if a candidate's degree is from an accredited institution and the title of the degree falls within one of the acceptable fields, or they have the requisite number of semester hours or quarter credits in one of those fields, they have met the educational requirements." If a candidate's degree is not in an acceptable field, the candidate's coursework is evaluated to determine if the requisite number of credits are from fields on the list of acceptable degrees or are from courses similar to those in the curricula of acceptable fields at the University of Washington and Eastern Washington University.

In 2006, the Department of Labor (" DOL" ) initiated an investigation of DSHS after receiving a complaint from a DSHS employee. The DOL investigator concluded that the Social Worker 2 and Social Worker 3 positions do not qualify for the " learned professional" exemption of

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the FLSA. The Secretary subsequently initiated this action.

II.

The district court concluded that the positions at issue require a sufficient amount of specialized intellectual instruction to qualify for the " learned professional" exemption. According to the district court, DSHS's requirements " are plainly more exacting than a bachelor's degree in ‘ any field’ as stated in 29 [C.F.R.] § 541.301(d), and more exacting than the caseworker's requirements outlined in the Department of Labor's 2005 opinion letter." The court also concluded that DSHS's requirement that social workers have at least eighteen months of experience in social work and that they be required to complete additional formal training weighed in favor of a finding of specialized training.

The district court relied in large part on Chatfield v. Children's Services, Inc., 555 F.Supp.2d 532, 536-37 (E.D.Pa.2008). In that case, the court held that truancy prevention case managers, who were required to have a bachelor's degree in social work, human services, or a related field, plus three years of work experience, came within the " learned professional" exemption. The court concluded that the degree requirements for a truancy prevention case manager position were sufficiently more specialized than a degree in " social...

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