Auer v. Robbins
519 U.S. 452 (1997)

  • Auer were policemen in St. Louis. They sued the police commissioner (Robbins) claiming that they were denied overtime pay, in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (29 U.S.C. §§201-)
    • The 29 U.S.C. §213(a)(1) exempts “bona fide executive, administrative, or professional employees” from overtime pay.
      • The Department of Labor had issued a regulation that defined a professional employee.
    • Robbins argued that the policemen were professional employees, and were exempt from the overtime pay requirement.
      • The policemen were paid on a salary basis, which is one of the requirements in the Department of Labor’s regulation for being considered a ‘professional employee.’
      • Auer argued that their pay could be reduced for low “quality or quantity” or work, so they didn’t completely meet the definition of salaried employees under the regulation.
  • The Trial Court found for Robbins. Auer appealed.
    • The Trial Court found that the policemen met the definition of salaried employees and were therefore exempt from overtime pay requirements.
  • The Appellate Court affirmed. Auer appealed.
  • The US Supreme Court affirmed.
    • The US Supreme Court looked at the Statute and found that it was ambiguous, and the Congress had not specifically spoken on the issue.
    • The Court looked to the Department of Labor’s regulation, which was unclear whether Auer’s specific argument about how his salary could be reduced affected his status as a ‘professional employee.’
    • The Court looked to guidance from the Secretary of Labor who filed an amicus brief which interpreted §213(a)(1) as to allow employees subject to disciplinary deductions to still count as being ‘exempt’.
      • In this case, the Fair Labor Standards Act explicitly gives the Secretary, “broad authority to define and delimit the scope of the exemption for executive, administrative, and professional employees.”
    • The Court found that the Secretary’s interpretation was ‘reasonable’, and the courts must defer to the Administrative Agency’s interpretation, unless that interpretation is arbitrary or capricious.
      • The Court found that “because the salary-basis test is a creature of the Secretary’s own regulations, his interpretation of it is, under our jurisprudence, controlling unless ‘plainly erroneous or inconsistent with the regulation.’”
      • See Chevron U.S.A. Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council (467 U.S. 837 (1984)).
  • This case was an extension of Chevron because not only does it give deference to the Administrative Agency in how their regulations interpret a Statute, but also how the Agency interprets ambiguities in their own regulations.