Field Service Engineer May Not Be Exempt “Administrative” Employee

Bothell v. Phase Metrics, Inc., 299 F.3d 1120 (9th Cir. 2002)

Rex Bothell, a former field service engineer employed by Phase Metrics, Inc., alleged that he had been improperly classified as an exempt administrative employee under state and federal law and sought unpaid overtime. Phase Metrics maintained that Bothell was essentially an account manager who performed his job independently, made or recommended decisions critical to the company and its client and “supervised the manual tasks of installation, repair and maintenance.” Bothell, on the other hand, testified at his deposition that he exercised very little independent authority or discretion and that his job consisted primarily of manual work and filling out paperwork. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the employer, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed. The Court held that under the “administration/production dichotomy,” an exempt administrative employee must primarily perform duties related to management or general business operations, whereas Bothell appeared to have been engaged in customer service activities that went to the “heart of Phase Metrics’ marketplace offerings, not to the internal administration of [its] business.” In addition, the Court found genuine issues of fact regarding the extent of the discretion and independent judgment Bothell exercised, thus precluding summary judgment.