North Carolina Judge Upholds Employer Classification of Employee as Exempt Computer Professional
The rapidly evolving world of information technology can give rise to disputes regarding the applicability of the FLSA’s 20+ year-old exemption for “computer professionals.” A new decision reinforces that individuals whose job responsibilities require them to maintain large networks qualify for the exemption. Campbell v. Kannapolis City Schs. Bd. of Educ., 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 133318 (M.D.N.C. Sept. 23, 2014).
The computer professional exemption applies to any employee who is a computer systems analyst, computer programmer, software engineer, or other similarly skilled worker whose primary duty involves systems analysis or computer programming. Plaintiff, a $60,000 per annum LAN Engineer “responsible for designing and implementing local area networks in a school environment” for a district of five thousand students qualified for exemption in Judge N. Carlton Tilley, Jr.’s view because “the proper inquiry . . . [is] the level of skill and sophistication exhibited by the employee in conducting those [networking] activities”. The court rejected Plaintiff Campbell’s overbroad and overly simplistic postulate that employees “primarily responsible for the day-to-day operations and functionality of computer networks do not fall into the computer professional exemption.” Plaintiff testified that his duties included “monitoring not only just the functionality of the [Virtual Private Network ("VPN")], but  monitoring the servers to make sure they were operating properly, monitoring the switches and routers . . . just to make sure that they were all up and running, and analyzing data to make determinations as to problems regarding network issues.” The Court found the independent performance of these tasks sufficient to meet the duties test for computer professional exempt status.
Employers must analyze the applicability of all white collar exemptions when classifying information technology personnel (or any other white collar personnel).