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Pignataro v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey

January 27, 2010

MICHAEL G. PIGNATARO; THOMPSON R. CHASE
v.
PORT AUTHORITY OF NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY, A BI-STATE AGENCY; JOHN DOES 1-5 AND JANE DOES 1-5 (AGENTS, REPRESENTATIVES AND/OR EMPLOYEES OF THE PORT AUTHORITY OF NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY) THE PORT AUTHORITY OF NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY, APPELLANT IN 08-3605
MICHAEL G. PIGNATARO; THOMPSON R. CHASE, APPELLANTS IN 08-3825
v.
PORT AUTHORITY OF NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY, A BI-STATE AGENCY; JOHN DOES 1-5 AND JANE DOES 1-5 (AGENTS, REPRESENTATIVES AND/OR EMPLOYEES OF THE PORT AUTHORITY OF NEW YORK AND NEW JERSEY)



On Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey (D.C. Civil No. 04-cv-01767) District Judge: Honorable Dennis M. Cavanaugh.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Rendell, Circuit Judge.

PRECEDENTIAL

Argued November 19, 2009

Before: RENDELL, BARRY, and CHAGARES, Circuit Judges

OPINION OF THE COURT

In this appeal the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey (the "Port Authority") challenges the District Court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Michael Pignataro and Thompson Chase. The District Court held that helicopter pilots are not exempt as "professional" employees under the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1), and therefore are entitled to mandatory time-and-a-half overtime compensation. It awarded Pignataro and Chase two years of damages, rather than three, because it concluded that the Port Authority's FLSA violation was not willful. Pignataro and Thompson appeal that aspect of the District Court's order, while the Port Authority challenges the denial of the exemption and the Court's award of prejudgment interest. For the reasons that follow, we will affirm the District Court's decisions in all three respects.

I. Background

Pignataro began working for the Port Authority as a helicopter pilot in 1982 and retired in 2004. The Port Authority hired Chase in 1977 and promoted him to helicopter pilot in 1982. Because the Port Authority classified helicopter pilots as "professional" employees under the FLSA, both Pignataro and Chase were deemed exempt from the overtime provisions of the FLSA. In April 2004, Pignataro and Chase filed a complaint in the District Court alleging that they were denied proper overtime pay under the FLSA for the previous three years.

On February 9, 2006, the District Court held that helicopter pilots are not professional employees under the FLSA and granted summary judgment in favor of Pignataro and Chase on the issue of liability only. On March 3, 2006, the Port Authority appealed this ruling, but we dismissed the appeal on February 23, 2007 because the District Court's order was not final. On August 11, 2008, the District Court entered a monetary judgment in favor of Pignataro and Chase, awarding Pignataro $67,907.23 in unpaid overtime wages plus $19,177.10 in prejudgment interest (totaling $87,084.33) and awarding Chase $50,626.80 in unpaid overtime wages plus $14,297.14 in prejudgment interest (totaling $64,923.94). Concluding that the Port Authority's violation of the FLSA was not willful, the District Court's award was based on two years of damages, instead of three.

Summary judgment is appropriate if there are no genuine issues of material fact and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). After making all reasonable inferences in the nonmoving party's favor, there is a genuine issue of material fact if a reasonable jury could find for the nonmoving party. Reliance Ins. Co. v. Moessner, 121 F.3d 895, 900 (3d Cir. 1997). Our review of the District Court's grant of summary judgment is plenary. Id.We have jurisdiction to hear this appeal under 28 U.S.C. § 1291.

II. Helicopter Pilots' Classification under the FLSA

The FLSA*fn1 mandates that if an employee works more than forty hours per week, he must be compensated for overtime hours at a rate at least one-and-one-half times the employee's regular rate. 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1). Employees who work in a "professional capacity," however, are exempt from this rule.

29 U.S.C. § 213(a)(1).*fn2 Exemptions from the FLSA are to be narrowly construed against the employer, and the employer has the burden of establishing an exemption. Guthrie v. Lady Jane Collieries, Inc., 722 F.2d 1141, 1143 (3d Cir. 1983). Whether helicopter pilots are exempt professionals is a mixed question of law and fact; we review the District Court's findings of fact for clear error and exercise plenary review over its interpretation and application of the exemption. Reich v. Gateway Press, Inc., 13 F.3d 685, 691 (3d Cir. 1994).

The applicable exemption from the FLSA urged here encompasses employees who are determined to be members of the "learned" professions, as defined by 29 C.F.R. §§ 541.3 and 541.301. An employee's status as a "learned professional" is determined by his or her duties and salary. 29 C.F.R. § 541.3. In order to ...


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