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Drug Companies Suffer a Blow to Overtime Policies

(CN) - The Supreme Court on Monday rejected petitions for review from two pharmaceutical companies, which sought to challenge 2nd Circuit rulings that their sales representatives are covered by federal overtime laws.

In declining to take up the appeals, the high court left intact two separate decisions against Novartis Pharmaceuticals and Schering Corp. The 2nd Circuit issued a pair of rulings in July 2010 that found the pharmaceutical sales reps were covered by federal wage-and-hour law.

In support of the workers' position, the Labor Department had filed an amicus brief with the 2nd Circuit.

The Novartis ruling overturned a federal judge's decision from more than a year earlier, which found that salespeople "are not entitled to overtime pay because they fall within the 'outside sales' and 'administrative' exemptions to both the federal and state overtime requirements."

Sanford Wittels & Heisler, the firm that represented the Novartis workers, said that various rulings against the pharmaceutical companies have opened the floodgates for liability. Sanford Wittels is representing plaintiffs in four identical wage-and-hour lawsuits against Pfizer, Roche, Merck and Abbott Laboratories.

"The court's denial of certiorari to Novartis is a victory for thousands of the company's reps who labored long and hard for Novartis - often working over 70 hours a week - and yet were denied the overtime pay that is their due," Sanford Wittels founding partner David Sanford said in a statement. "We are hopeful that Novartis will do the right thing and carry out the Second Circuit's ruling by immediately instituting an overtime compensation system for its Reps and paying the reps the overtime monies that the company has withheld for so many years."

Jeremy Heisler, another of the firm's partners, noted in the statement that new state overtime laws for New York will take effect on April 11 and impose increased penalties employers that fail to pay required overtime.

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