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Teacher Overtime Case Decided

Are teachers in educational settings other than primary schools, secondary schools, or colleges entitled to receive minimum wage for out-of-classroom work and/or overtime pay when their classroom and out-of-classroom work exceed forty hours per week? New York’s highest federal court recently said “NO!”

The following facts are taken from Fernandez v. Zoni Language Ctrs., Inc. decided by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on May 26, 2017.
The plaintiffs were English Language instructors at a private, for-profit institution offering English classes to adult students. The teachers argued that their employer, Zoni Centers, was required to pay them minimum wage for hours worked outside of the classroom, such as when preparing for class and grading work, and overtime hours when their classroom and out-of-classroom work exceeded forty hours per week. The District Court held that although employers are generally required by the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”) to pay employees minimum wage and overtime, teachers are considered bona fide professionals exempt from these FLSA requirements. Thus, Zoni Centers was not required to abide by the general FLSA requirements.


The issue in the case was whether Zoni Centers was considered an “educational establishment” as required by the Department of Labor’s regulation. If they were, then the FLSA exemption applied and if not, the exemption did not apply and the teachers would win. Although the teachers tried to argue that Zoni Centers was not an “educational establishment,” the Second Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed.
The teachers here argued that Zoni Centers should not be considered an “educational establishment” because: (1) instructors hired by Zoni Centers did not have to possess a teaching certificate, have majored in a field related to English, or even have bachelor’s degrees; and (2) the students did not earn a certificate like students at primary schools, secondary schools, or even colleges.
In striking down the teachers’ arguments, the Second Circuit considered both the plain meaning of the word “educational” and the fact that the regulation did not have a clear definition of what an “other educational institution” meant. The Court thought this vagueness suggested that the meaning was broad and flexible. Therefore, the Second Circuit held that Zoni Centers was an “educational establishment” because they conveyed knowledge to its students and possessed a state licensure and national accreditation.
Furthermore, in deciding to agree with the lower court, the Second Circuit concluded that although the eight factors the District Court used to determine whether the exemption applies were helpful, they were not definitive. The eight factors were: (1) the title of employees; (2) the certifications required of employees; (3) the formality of courses; (4) the granting of certificates or degrees; (5) the institution’s charter; (6) the employee’s involvement in organizing, communicating and delivering curriculum; (7) whether the institution is licensed by a state agency responsible for the state’s educational system; and (8) whether the institution is accredited by a nationally recognized accrediting organization. In other words, the Second Circuit decided not to adopt a strict test to determine who qualified under the bona fide professional exemption applicable to teachers.
In sum, a teacher at a private institution that is not considered either a primary school, secondary school, college, or any of its counterparts, may not be entitled to minimum wage for hours worked outside of the classroom or overtime hours when their classroom and out-of-classroom work exceeds forty hours per week.

Since it may not always be clear who falls under the FLSA exemption for bona fide professionals, if you have further questions about unpaid minimum wage or overtime contact the employment lawyers on Long Island of Famighetti & Weinick, PLLC at 631-352-0050.

Today’s Long Island employment law blog was written by Thalia Olaya, a Hofstra Law School intern working at Famighetti & Weinick, PLLC, this summer.

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