A recent Supreme Court ruling found service advisers at car dealerships to be exempt under federal law from overtime pay requirements – much like car salesmen and mechanics. The ruling came down 5-4 that service advisers are sales people (even though they also fulfill additional duties such as greeting customers, and proposing various repair service, etc.) The ruling will affect more than 18,000 dealerships across the nation that together as a whole employ over 100,000 service advisers alone.
The case involved a Mercedes Benz dealership out of Encino, California and several of their current and former service advisers. Each side in the case interpreted the Fair Labor Standards Act differently…”any salesman…primarily engaged in selling or servicing automobiles” doesn’t have to provided overtime compensation.
The dealership’s arguments were based on their interpretation that the definition of salesman clearly included the service advisers. Their range of duties includes helping to diagnose mechanical issues, preparing price estimates for vehicle repairs, etc. Service advisers argued that they were not included in the definition of “salesman” as intended by the Fair Labor Standards Act.
In a majority opinion, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that the “ordinary meaning of ‘salesman’ is someone who sells goods or services.” According to this ordinary meaning of the word, service advisers are, in fact, salesmen. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dissented arguing that because the service advisers do not sell or repair vehicles, they should not be exempt from overtime.
The Department of Labor changed its interpretation of the Fair Labor Standards Act in 2011; which led the issue to the high court. For decades prior to the 2011 change, the department operated under the assumption that employers were not required to provide service advisers with overtime compensation.
This decision was the second time the court has ruled on this case. The earlier litigation resulted in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruling that service advisers were entitled to overtime. In 2016, after the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, the overtime question was sidestepped by an eight-member Supreme Court; advising the appeals court to take another look at the case. The appeals court again ruled in favor of service advisers.
The Supreme Court ruling in favor of car dealerships will have affect dealerships and service advisers nationwide.
If you have questions about overtime eligibility or overtime compensation as required by employment law, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal Nordrehaug Bhowmik De Blouw LLP.