United States Court of Appeals, District of Columbia Circuit
Argued, April 23, 2015
Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. (No. 1:06-cv-02031).
Alan Lescht argued the cause and filed the briefs for appellants.
S. Micah Salb argued the cause for appellees. With him on the brief was Dennis Chong.
Before: MILLETT and PILLARD, Circuit Judges, and SENTELLE, Senior Circuit Judge.
Sentelle, Senior Circuit
Appellees, medical records coders employed by appellants, brought this action against their employers for unlawfully failing to pay overtime pay. Appellees prevailed in a jury verdict that found they were not exempt from overtime pay. The district court denied defendant-appellants' motions for judgment as a matter of law, for a new trial, and to alter or amend the judgment. Appellants brought the present appeal, contending that no reasonable jury could have found appellees not to be exempt, and that errors by the court require a new trial. Finding no merit in appellants' arguments, we affirm the judgment of the district court for the reasons more fully set forth below.
Plaintiff-appellees Kathy Radtke and Carmen Cunningham were employed as medical records coders by defendant-appellants. Appellees brought the present action against their former employers. Although the complaint and a subsequent amended complaint asserted multiple theories of relief, as relevant to the present appeal, plaintiffs asserted that defendants had failed to pay them compensation at the rate of one and a half times their normal pay for work in excess of forty hours per week, in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. § 207(a) et seq.  Defendants contended that plaintiffs were exempt from the requirement to pay overtime pay under the administrative and professional exemptions defined in 29 C.F.R. § 541.200 and § 541.300.
This case came on for trial before a judge and jury. Plaintiffs offered testimonial and documentary evidence to support the proposition that they had worked beyond forty hours per week and not been paid at time and a half. Defendants offered evidence and arguments to the effect that plaintiffs were exempt from the statutory enhancement and offered descriptions of the employees' duties, which defendants contended were consistent with administrative and professional employment as defined in 29 C.F.R. § 541.200 and § 541.300, so that they would be exempt from the statutory requirement for payment of the enhanced wages.
The Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., " ordinarily requires employers to pay employees time-and-one-half for hours worked beyond forty per week unless the employees are exempt." Robinson-Smith v. GEICO, 590 F.3d 886, 888, 389 U.S.App.D.C. 46 (D.C. Cir. 2010); see also 29 U.S.C. § § 207, 213. Relevant to this case, an employer is not required to pay overtime to exempt " administrative" and " professional" employees. An employee falls under the administrative exemption if her compensation is high enough (not in dispute in this case), her " primary duty is the performance of office or non-manual work directly related to the management or general business operations of the employer or the employer's customers," and her " primary duty includes the exercise of discretion and independent judgment with respect to matters of significance." 29 C.F.R. § 541.200(a). An employee falls under the professional exemption if her compensation is high enough (not in dispute in this case), and her " primary duty is the performance of work...[r]equiring knowledge of an advanced type in a field of science or learning customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction; or...[r]equiring invention, imagination, originality or talent in a recognized field of artistic or creative endeavor." 29 C.F.R. § 541.300(a). The employer bears the burden of establishing that its employee falls within a recognized overtime exemption. See Robinson-Smith, 590 F.3d at 891.
Appellants' main line of argument is that they were entitled to judgment as a matter of law, notwithstanding the verdict. Appellants rely on Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(a), which provides that, " [i]f a party has been fully heard on an issue during a jury trial and the court finds that a reasonable jury would not have a legally sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the party on that issue," the trial court may grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law against that party on that issue. While we review the district court's denial of a motion for judgment as a matter of law de novo, Novak v. Capital Mgmt. & Dev. Corp., 570 F.3d 305, 311, 386 U.S.App.D.C. 395 (D.C. Cir. 2009), " [w]e do not...lightly disturb a jury verdict. Judgment as a matter of law is appropriate only if the evidence and all reasonable inferences that can be drawn therefrom are so one-sided that reasonable men and women could not have reached a verdict in plaintiff's favor," Muldrow v. Re-Direct, Inc., 493 F.3d 160, 165, 377 U.S.App.D.C. 187 (D.C. Cir. 2007) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted). This court must resolve all reasonable inferences in plaintiffs' favor and " cannot substitute its view for that of the jury, and can assess neither the credibility nor weight of the evidence." Scott v. District of Columbia, 101 F.3d 748, 753, 322 U.S.App.D.C. 75 (D.C. Cir. 1996).
As to appellants' alternate argument that the district court erred in denying their motion for a new trial, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 59(a)(1) provides in relevant part that " [t]he court may, on motion, grant a new trial on all or some of the issues...after a jury trial, for any reason for which a new trial has heretofore been granted in an action at law in federal court." " We review the district court's denial of [a] motion for a new trial 'only for an abuse of discretion.'" Muldrow, 493 F.3d at 166 (quoting Daskalea v. District of Columbia, 227 F.3d 433, 443, 343 U.S.App.D.C. 261 (D.C. Cir. 2000)). " When the district court denies a motion for new trial, our scope of review is particularly narrow because the trial court's decision accords with the jury's." Hutchinson v. Stuckey, 952 F.2d 1418, 1420, 293 U.S.App.D.C. 224 (D.C. Cir. 1992) (emphasis in original). " In reviewing for an abuse of discretion, the Court considers 'whether the decision maker failed to consider a relevant factor, whether [the decision maker] relied on an improper factor, ...