California courts continue to build on the Ninth Circuit’s recent decision regarding the California Learned Professional Exemption.  A California appellate court found a law clerk as exempt from state and federal overtime provisions who had not passed the California Bar Exam but graduated from law school.  Zelasko-Barrett v. Brayton-Purcell, LLP, 2011 Cal. App. LEXIS 1080 (Cal. App. 1st Dist. Aug. 17, 2011). 

On June 15, 2011, the Ninth Circuit breathed new life into the California Learned Professional Exemption when it decided Campbell v. PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, 9th Cir., No. 09-16370, 6/15/11. See blog entry, "The Ninth Circuit Has Revitalized The California Learned Professional Overtime Exemption and Remanded To A Jury Key Issues Under The Administrative Exemption"

Historically, overtime disputes regarding the use of the Learned Professional Exemption have centered in particular fields, such as engineering or, more recently, accounting . On August 17, 2011, the Court of Appeal for the First Appellate District considered and rejected a challenge to the application of the California Labor Code’s Learned Professional Exemption in the legal field. Zelasko-Barrett v. Brayton-Purcell, LLP, 2011 Cal. App. LEXIS 1080 (Cal. App. 1st Dist. Aug. 17, 2011).

In Zelasko, the Defendant firm utilized law students and law school graduates who had not yet passed the bar in the positions of Law Clerk I and Law Clerk II, respectively. Plaintiff held the Law Clerk II position prior to his admission to the bar for approximately 2 years, then moved on to the position of Associate Attorney. The Marin County Superior Court held that the plaintiff was properly classified as exempt when he held the position of Law Clerk II. 

Observing that the “federal regulations after which [the California learned professional exemption] was explicitly patterned . . . condition the learned professions exemption under federal law upon completion of an advanced course of education, not upon licensure,” the appellate Court ruled that possession of the degree, along with Defendant’s undisputed evidence that a Law Clerk II was required to perform all the same duties as a junior attorney, satisfied the exemption’s requirements.

Zelasko is an encouraging result for all employers since more California courts are now applying the principals set forth in the Ninth Circuit’s decision in Campbell v. PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. Employers should always ensure that employees classified as exempt are properly classified under federal and state law.

Written by Noel Tripp