California Court Upholds Employer’s Classification of Registered Dietitians as Exempt ”Professionals”

As the healthcare field continues to expand to meet evolving standards of care and government regulations, industry employers have created or modified categories of professional employees to meet business and medical needs. New positions have been created which are not addressed by name in existing DOL regulations and case law concerning applicability of the learned professional exemption. Yet, the key concept distinguishing a “professional” employee under the FLSA — possessing and using advanced knowledge acquired through academic instruction in a recognized field of science or learning—remains the same, as evidenced by a new decision upholding the exempt status of certain registered dietitians under the FLSA and California law. Rosenberg v. Renal Advantage, Inc., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 57538 (S.D. Cal. Apr. 24, 2014).

In Rosenberg, the plaintiff worked as a registered dietitian in conjunction with a team of professionals operating defendant’s dialysis clinics. Each team included an RN, a physician, a social worker, and a dietitian. The company required its Registered Dietitians to have a Bachelor’s Degree in Nutrition/Dietetics, register with the American Dietetic Association, obtain a license (if required by the state of operation) and have a minimum of one year of experience. Because plaintiff used her knowledge to independently “counsel patients on how to correct…[various medical] deficiencies through diet corrections,” and because the specific educational track required to hold the position with defendant was unequivocally one which constituted a field of science or learning, the FLSA exemption applied. The Court also rejected plaintiff’s argument that the position was non-exempt under California law merely because RNs are non-exempt employees under the applicable California Wage Order (as distinguished from the FLSA, under which an RN practicing as a nurse is exempt). The Court noted specific language in the Wage Order limiting the scope of the registered nurse exclusion from exempt status, in particular the fact that the Wage Order excepts from the exclusion certain “advanced practice nurses.”

Rosenberg demonstrates the importance of, inter alia, businesses utilizing specific credentialing requirements for positions classified as learned professionals. The opinion also highlights the need in many cases to conduct a separate analysis of exempt status under state law.