An Employee’s Exempt Status May Be Determined by Reference to Other Workweeks

In Batze v. Safeway, Inc. (May 3, 2017) 10 Cal. App. 5th 440, the Court of Appeal held that although the determination of exempt or nonexempt status should be made on weekly basis, a jury may extrapolate evidence from weeks in which evidence is available to make inferences regarding weeks in which evidence is not available.

Plaintiffs were grocery store assistant managers. They brought individual claims for unpaid overtime against Safeway after the court denied class certification. Plaintiffs claimed that they were misclassified as exempt employees because a majority of their time was not spent on managerial duties. The trial court found in favor of defendants, finding that plaintiffs spent over fifty percent of their time performing managerial tasks, and met all other qualifications for exempt status. Plaintiffs appealed on the grounds that because (1) defendants bore the burden of proof, and (2) because the ratio of nonexempt to exempt activities must be determined on weekly basis, no inferences could be made regarding weeks in which defendants produced no evidence, the trial court’s decision was incorrect.

The California Court of Appeal affirmed. It found that substantial evidence supported the trial court’s decision. Although an employee’s exempt or nonexempt status may vary each week, the trier of fact can make reasonable inferences about an employee’s activities in earlier or later periods, particularly when an employee’s duties have not changed significantly over time. Defendants produced sufficient evidence to enable the trial court to make reasonable inferences about those periods during which evidence was not available.

The practical implication is that an employer’s best practices are to have weekly evidence of an employee’s activities. When impracticable, a factfinder could make reasonable inferences to fill in the evidentiary gaps.