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Eicher v. Advanced Business Integrators: A Trio of Holdings

An interesting new wage and hour case came down this week: Eicher v. Advanced Business Integrators, Inc. In a trial de novo in the superior court, after an adverse decision in a Labor Commissioner hearing, Michael Eicher prevailed in his claim for unpaid overtime compensation, along with prejudgment interest and attorney’s fees, against his former employer, Advanced Business Integrators (ABI).

ABI appealed the judgment, arguing that Eicher was an exempt administrative employee not entitled to overtime; that the court’s award was excessive; and that Labor Code § 98.2 did not authorize an award of fees to a plaintiff who prevails in a trial de novo. Labor Code § 1194 allows a prevailing employee to recover fees "in a civil action" for unpaid overtime wages. ABI contended that an appeal from an administrative decision was not itself a "civil action" for unpaid wages.

The court of appeal mostly agreed with Eicher, holding that:

  • Labor Code § 1194 authorizes an award of attorney's fees incurred in the trial court when an employee prevails in a trial de novo under Labor Code § 98.2; and
  • ABI did not carry its burden of establishing the affirmative defense of the administrative exemption. Even though Eicher learned management policies and business operations in the course of his work, he had no personal effect on the policy or general business operations of employer or its customers; and he regularly engaged in employer's core day-to-day business, such as implementing employer's software product and providing related customer service; but
  • When calculating damages for unpaid overtime, the trial court should not have counted PTO (paid time off) as "hours worked."

There aren't many published cases that discuss the administrative exemption. That makes this case well worth reading. For the next few weeks, you can download the full text of Eicher v. Advanced Business Integrators here in pdf or word format.

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