Virginia Judge Rejects Highly Compensated IT Professional’s Misclassification Claim

The FLSA’s technical “white collar exemption” regulations, slated for review and potential overhaul later this year, allow plaintiffs’ attorneys and even the highly paid employees they represent to challenge exempt status. A recent decision from the Eastern District of Virginia rejects one such claim brought by a highly paid information technology worker paid a salary substantially above the FLSA’s $100,000 per annum cutoff for “highly compensated” workers. Mock v. Fed. Home Loan Mortg. Corp., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 97259 (E.D. Va. July 15, 2014).

In Mock, plaintiff served as an Engineering Senior and Engineering Tech Lead for the Federal Home Loan Mortgage Corporation (a/k/a “Freddie Mac”) and was a member of one of the two groups responsible for Freddie Mac’s IT infrastructure. He was considered “the subject matter expert and engineering lead for Freddie Mac’s virtualization infrastructure and ‘VMware,’ an intricate software with various component products that allows for the installation and testing of software programs virtually without affecting actual computers, and which increases information technology storage capacity in space while decreasing the need for physical hardware.” Freddie Mac argued, and Judge Leonie M. Brinkema agreed, that Mock’s duties with respect to managing Freddie Mac’s VMware qualified for the administrative and computer professional exemptions, even without the relaxation in the standard for exempt status under the “highly compensated” exemption test. As concerned the applicability of the computer professional exemption, the court observed that “although Mock did not create or write the VMware used by Freddie Mac, he upgrades the software, modifies it to adapt it to Freddy Mac’s complex operating systems, and tests upgrades and modifications . . . this necessarily requires both a high level of skill in systems analysis and in-depth knowledge of both the software and Freddie Mac’s operating systems, and clearly establishes that Mock’s duties are exempt.”

Judge Brinkema’s ruling in Mock provides some comfort and direction to employers seeking to apply the white collar exemptions to similar workers, but the case itself also demonstrates that wage claims can come from seemingly unlikely employees.