NEW YORK — A New York law firm, Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP, and a staffing agency are currently fighting a putative class action overtime claim from a former contract attorney. The contract attorney believes the law firm violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) and New York state labor law in failing to pay him overtime. The law firm, on the other hand, believes the contract attorney was exempt because his employment included practicing law. The exemption argument did not convince a New York district judge and the case has moved into a fiercely fought discovery process.
Contract Attorney’s Claim
A contract attorney is an attorney who does work for a law firm on a contract basis instead of a full- or part-time basis. In this case, the contract attorney, William Henig, filed his lawsuit in March 2013. Henig claims the document review work he and other contract attorneys performed for the law firm was very routine in nature. Because of the basic nature of the work he claims he was not practicing law and he should be compensated for the close to 60 hours of work he completed each week during his contract term.
Discovery is the vital, and often most costly, stage in litigation where one or both sides provide documents related to the matter at hand. Generally in overtime lawsuits, the employer will possess and have to provide most, if not all, of the necessary documents. In this case, the parties have held numerous phone conferences with court magistrates and judges to determine what documents must be provided.
Henig is seeking all documents related to his document review work and the document review work of other contract attorneys to show that his work did not amount to the practice of law and that a class action is necessary. The law firm claims the only documents necessary are those that prove Henig was practicing law and exempt. The court is also reviewing employment-related documents sent between the law firm, the staffing agency, and Henig.
The Professional Exemption
The FLSA provides exemptions to minimum wage and overtime requirements. The most common exemption is the executive exemption for employees who are tasked with managing a business or other employees within a business. There is also an exemption for “professionals.”
This exemption applies to individuals who are either creative or learned professionals. Creative professionals are those who make a living creating or inventing in artistic fields. Learned professionals are those who have gained advanced skill and knowledge in fields of science or learning through extended, specialized instruction, like doctors, lawyers, teachers, and pharmacists. In the case of doctors or lawyers, they must be engaged in the practice of medicine or law to qualify for the exemption. Whether or not Henig was practicing law is the key issue in this case.
If you believe your employer has misclassified your position as exempt and you are owed overtime wages, call our knowledgeable team of overtime pay lawyers today at (855) 754-2795. Or complete the Free Unpaid Overtime Case Review form and our experienced legal team will evaluate your case. If we accept your case, we will represent you under our No Fee Promise. This means there are no legal fees or costs unless you receive a settlement.