This is our initial coverage of the overtime lawsuits against some of the major accounting firms doing business in California. For those of you not up to speed, these suits were filed by non-licensed associates who believe they were misclassified under California law as exempt professionals and are due overtime and other benefits due to non-exempt employees. The suits are all in various stages but the key case that may determine how the other cases will proceed is Campbell v. PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Campbell is currently awaiting argument before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The primary issue before the court has to do with whether or not, under the professional exemption, an associate is required to be licensed by the state of California in order to qualify for exempt status. Counsel for Campbell essentially argues that only licensed or certified accountants can qualify for exempt status in California while PwC argues that uncertified accountants who can qualify as "learned professionals" are exempt employees and thus not eligible for overtime pay. The U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of California granted summary judgment on liability in favor of Plaintiff Campbell and ruled that attest associates must have a license in order to be exempt. The court further held that they may not qualify for exempt status under the "learned professional" section of the exemption. However because the trial court felt it was a close question, it certified the matter to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals for interlocutory appeal. According to Bill Kershaw, of Kershaw, Cutter, Ratinoff LLP, lead counsel for the plaintiffs, the ruling in this matter could have significant repercussions for other remaining wage and overtime lawsuits. Mr. Kershaw believes that if 9th Circuit does rule in the favor of the plaintiffs, then the likelihood of the case resolving itself prior to trial would substantially increase. If the court of appeals rules that learned professionals can be defined as exempt, PwC (and likely the other defendant accounting firms) will center their argument back in the trial court on the appeals court's ruling that unlicensed accountants are indeed "learned professionals." We contacted Dave Nestor, Head of Communications for PwC in the U.S. and he provided us with the Firm's statement:
PwC believes that its attest associates are professionals who spend the majority of their time engaged in challenging work requiring the use of their intellectual abilities, judgment and discretion. Based on these and other factors, PwC's attest associates are properly considered exempt under applicable law, and are therefore appropriately compensated.
We've provided a list below of all the cases against accounting firms currently in the courts in California for your information. Check the list for your firm and please remember that it is your right to participate in any of the class action lawsuits if you meet the criteria set forth in the case. Even if you are still employed by the firm being sued, they cannot retaliate against you. Likewise, you can participate in the case on behalf of the defendants if you are approached and choose to do so. You also have the right to not participate at all if you so choose. If you receive any correspondence from your firm regarding the overtime and wage lawsuits, please let us know using [email protected]. We'll always keep you anonymous. We'll be covering this story as it progresses and continue to check back here for periodic updates.