(CN) – Chinese Daily News employees are entitled to overtime pay and meal breaks, the 9th Circuit held, rejecting the newspaper’s claim that its reporters were subject to a “creative professional exemption” from federal labor law.
Reporters and other staff at the Chinese-language paper in Monterey Park, Calif., claimed they had to be on call from morning until night, were denied meal breaks and were unable to record their hours accurately. They claimed these practices violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.
A federal judge agreed, rejecting the paper’s claim that its reporters are exempt from overtime pay and break requirements as “creative professionals.”
Journalists are eligible for the creative professional exemption when “their primary duty is work requiring invention, imagination, originality or talent, as opposed to work which depends mostly on intelligence, diligence and accuracy,” according to the Department of Labor.
The newspaper appealed the non-exempt ruling and challenged the judge’s decision to oversee the opt-out process for employees who chose not to join the lawsuit against their employer. The federal judge had interceded when employees presented evidence that the paper was persuading employees not to “tear the business apart.”
A three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit agreed with the lower court’s decision to oversee the opt-out process and to categorize the reporters as not exempt from overtime benefits.
The judges noted that the Chinese Daily News has just 12 to 15 reporters and a local circulation of about 30,000. As such, its articles “do not have the sophistication of the national-level papers at which one might expect to find the small minority of journalists who are exempt,” Judge William Fletcher wrote.
“Moreover, the intense pace at which CDN’s reporters work precludes them from engaging in sophisticated analysis.”
“[E]ven when viewing the facts in the light most favorable to CDN, the reporters do not satisfy the criteria for the creative professional exemption,” Fletcher concluded.