(CN) – Some 2,000 unlicensed accountants will have to go to trial to determine if auditing giant PricewaterhouseCoopers owes them overtime wages under California’s labor laws, the 9th Circuit ruled Wednesday.
Companies in California must pay overtime to employees who work more than 40 hours a week, unless those workers meet exemptions for professionals, executives or administrators.
Former and current unlicensed accountants employed by PricewaterhouseCoopers in its six California offices filed a class action against the Big Four firm for unpaid overtime. The class of approximately 2,000 junior accountants, led by plaintiffs Jason Campbell and Sarah Sobek, claimed that their generally rote audit work did not fall under any of the three exemptions.
Senior U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton agreed and granted the class partial summary judgment. Karlton concluded that, as unlicensed accountants, the plaintiffs were ineligible for the professional exemption. The judge also said the firm had failed to establish that the plaintiffs’ duties were performed with only general supervision, which is a key element of the administrative exemption.
The San Francisco-based federal appeals panel reversed, ruling that a dispute remains over the scope of the plaintiffs’ supervision – and that only a jury can resolve that question.
“Given … the numerous factual disputes in the record, the district court should not have disposed of this issue at summary judgment,” Judge Richard Tallman wrote for the unanimous panel. “Both parties introduced a wealth of evidence about the nature and scope of PwC’s supervision over plaintiffs. A jury should evaluate credibility and weigh this extensive conflicting evidence.”
Tallman added that “without better guidance on the legal definition of ‘general supervision,’ this highly contested fact issue can be resolved only after trial.”