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Hilda L. Solis, Secretary of Labor, United States Department of Labor v. State of Washington

September 9, 2011

HILDA L. SOLIS, SECRETARY OF LABOR, UNITED STATES DEPARTMENT OF LABOR, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
STATE OF WASHINGTON, DEP'T OF SOC. & HEALTH SERVS., DEFENDANT-APPELLEE.



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington Benjamin H. Settle, District Judge, Presiding D.C. No. 3:08-cv-05479-BHS

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Fogel, District Judge

FOR PUBLICATION

OPINION

Argued and Submitted August 1, 2011-Seattle, Washington

Before: John T. Noonan and Milan D. Smith, Jr., Circuit Judges, and Jeremy Fogel, District Judge*fn1

OPINION

The Secretary of Labor*fn2 has filed a complaint against the State of Washington, Department of Social and Health Services ("DSHS"), alleging that DSHS has failed to pay overtime compensation to certain social workers in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended, 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq. ("FLSA"). The district court granted summary judgment in favor of DSHS, concluding that the social workers come within the "learned professional" exemption to the FLSA's overtime pay requirements. The Secretary appeals.

To avail itself of the "learned professional" exemption, an employer must show that a position requires advanced knowledge customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction. Because the social worker positions at issue here require only a degree in one of several diverse academic disciplines or sufficient coursework in any of those disciplines, we conclude that DSHS has not met its burden of showing that its social worker positions "plainly and unmistakably" meet the regulatory requirement. Accordingly, we reverse and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.

I.

DSHS is a public agency created by the Washington legislature to "integrate and coordinate all those activities involving provision of care for individuals who, as a result of their economic, social or health condition, require financial assistance, institutional care, rehabilitation or other social and health services." Wash. Rev. Code § 43.20A.10. The Children's Administration is an agency within DSHS tasked with the mission of protecting abused and neglected children. It employs social workers in forty-four field offices who identify the needs of children and families and arrange for services to assure their safety and well-being. While the work of individual social workers varies, their responsibilities include investigating child abuse and neglect, developing and recommending appropriate treatment plans to courts, evaluating child and family progress in meeting treatment plans, making placement decisions, and recommending whether parental rights should be terminated.

DSHS asserts that it has established "rigorous educational qualifications" for its social workers. Candidates for Social Worker 2 must have at least a "[b]achelor's degree or higher in social services, human services, behavioral sciences, or an allied field," as well as eighteen months as a Social Worker 1 or two years' experience in an equivalent position. Candidates for Social Worker 3 must meet the same educational requirements and have additional work experience. Within one year of their appointment, new employees in these positions must complete a formal training program that includes four weeks of classroom instruction and two weeks of field instruction.

DSHS uses an internal document entitled "Social Worker Minimum Qualifications Cheat Sheet" to assess whether candidates meet the educational requirements. That document sets out the degree requirements as follows:

Education/Degrees:

Social Services, human services, behavioral sciences or allied field (Not Social Science)

Acceptable: Counseling, Psych[ology], Social Work, Human Services, Sociology, Child Development, Family Studies, Pastoral Counseling, Anthropology, Gerontology, Therapeutic Recreation, Education, Therapeutic Fields, Criminal Justice.

Not Acceptable: History, Economics, Civics, Philosophy, Communications, Archeology, Nursing, Theology, Pastoral Studies, Religion, Recreation, Women's Studies, Native American Studies, Public Administration, Political Science, Law & Justice, Human Resources, ...


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