In Pignataro v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals held that that helicopter pilots did not fall under professional employee exemption. 593 F.3d 265 (3rd. Cir. 2010). Plaintiffs in this matter were helicopter pilots for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Under the FLSA, employees are entitled to one-and-one-half their hourly rate for all time worked in excess of forty hours. Defendant claimed that both Plaintiffs qualified for an exemption to this general requirement known as the professional employee exemption.
In order to qualify under the professional employee exemption, an employee’s primary duties must require “work requiring knowledge of an advance type in a field of science or learning customarily acquired by a prolonged course of specialized intellectual instruction and study, as distinguished from a general academic education and from an apprenticeship, and from training in the performance or routine mental, manual or physical processes.” This exemption is meant to be narrowly applied against the employer and is primarily applied to employees in an academic or scientific setting, such as lawyers, doctors, engineers, and teachers.
The Court held that the pilots did not qualify under this professional employee exemption because the pilots were not required to obtain academic degrees or spend any significant time in a classroom in order to obtain their license or certification. Most of the training was done though in-flight instruction, and the few written tests required did not qualify as “prolonged.” Thus, the Court held that the specialized knowledge and unique skill of the pilots was not sufficient to qualify under the professional employee exemption.
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