LAN engineer was exempt computer professional

A local area network (LAN) engineer for a public school system, whose duties involved maintaining the school-wide computer network, was exempt from overtime under the FLSA’s computer professional exemption, a federal district court in North Carolina found, granting summary judgment to the employer on his FLSA overtime claim.

Job description

There was no genuine issue of material fact as to whether the employee qualified under the computer professional exemption set forth at FLSA, Sec. 213(a)(17), the court found. The only open issue was whether the employee’s primary duty met the criteria for exemption. According to his job description, the LAN engineer was responsible for “designing and implementing local area networks” and supervising the installation, maintenance, and operation of local area networks and associated computer hardware and software. He also was to coordinate with the school system’s director of technology to evaluate the district’s networking needs and recommended improvements and modifications to the existing infrastructure. In addition, his role was to diagnose and resolve complex local area network issues. The qualifications for the job included a B.S. in computer science (or a related field) and “increasingly responsible experience in a network environment.” In applying for the job, the employee cited his numerous professional certifications. He also noted his “excellent track record of managing network resources, managing projects, and customer support,” along with his four years of prior experience as an analyst maintaining a network of 100 servers and 3,000 users.
The employee had conceded that, on paper, it appeared that the computer professional exemption applied. However, he pointed to the FLSA regulations, which provide that job title alone is not determinative — actual work activities controlled. But even by this measure, the exemption applied, the court found.

Actual duties controlled

A review of the employee’s day-to-day work confirmed that his primary duties were of such skill as to fall within the exemption criteria. Among his delineated functions were installing network servers, hubs, routers, workstations, printers and other peripheral devices; operating and maintaining the LANs; tracking problems; performing software and hardware upgrades; installing or modifying existing networked hardware and other components; participating in long- and short-range technology planning; maintaining documentation on network configurations and operating procedures; assisting in training; and maintaining his own current knowledge of LAN trends and developments through taking courses and reading professional literature.

High level of discretion

Moreover, the employee exercised considerable discretion in performing his assigned tasks, further supporting a finding that he was “the type of employee contemplated by the FLSA exemptions,” the court said. At bottom, it was his responsibility to make sure his employer’s facilities all “had access to the network.” As he noted, “I was really the only person that could handle the connectivity type problems,” adding that his employer had counted on him “for the system to be working.” His employer relied on him to do “whatever he needed to do” to ensure users had access to the network. As such, the employee’s attempt here “to recast his role as one resembling a lower-skilled employee” was unconvincing — particular when comparing his own responsibilities side by side to the work performed by his employer’s lower-skilled technicians, who worked only on individual desktop computers, rather than on the network system. Those employees earned significantly less pay, too, the court pointed out, and the employee had already “conceded his own superior knowledge and broader scope of employment than those individuals.”

The employee’s protestations that he was just carrying out the directives of others, just “doing what I was told,” held little sway with the court. Although his ability to perform his tasks may have been restricted by the decisions of others, the court noted, that didn’t mean his level of responsibility was diminished, “and his efforts to minimize his role in this regard are unpersuasive.”

Professional certifications more proof

Certification as a Novell administrator, Novell engineer or Microsoft engineer was preferred for his position, and when the employee first applied, he had highlighted his numerous certifications. However, the employee subsequently testified that he had allowed his certifications to lapse during his employment with the school system because even though these qualifications were encouraged at the hiring stage, the employer “didn’t see them as valuable other than using them as a way to hire people.” The school district didn’t want to pay for the credentials and didn’t want to send him to classes to keep them up, he testified. However, regardless of whether each certification held by the employee applied specifically to the requirements of his position, the certifications offered further evidence of the skilled nature of his work, and the value of his abilities, the court reasoned.
The employee’s primary duty was the performance of work set forth in the FLSA’s computer professional exemption, the court held. Convinced that no reasonable fact finder could conclude otherwise, the court granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment on the employee’s overtime claim. (Campbell v Kannapolis City Schools Board of Education, MDNC, 164 LC ¶36,268).

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