Class of Newspaper Reporters Entitled to Overtime -- Wang v. Chinese Daily News

The Ninth Circuit's Decision in Wang v. Chinese Daily News is an important decision on several levels.  One of these is to demonstrate just how difficult it can be for an employer to prove a defense to overtime under the professional exemption.   

The Chinese Daily News argued that its reporters qualified as exempt "creative professionals," because their primary work duties required "invention, imagination, originality or talent in a recognized field of artistic or creative endeavor as opposed to routine mental, manual, mechanical or physical work.” 

As the court explained, however, "newspaper reporters who merely rewrite press releases or who write standard recounts of public information by gathering facts on routine community events are not exempt creative professionals."  Rather, exempt duties include "performing on the air in radio, television or other electronic media; conducting investigative interviews; analyzing or interpreting public events; writing editorials, opinion columns or other commentary; or acting as a narrator or commentator."  

In short, the difference is between being a mere conduit for facts and being an investigator, analyst or interpreter of those facts.  The Court opined that this "creative professional" standard should only apply to the "small minority of journalists" who work at national papers such as "The New York Times" or "Washington Post."  But reporters at "small or unsophisticated" "community" papers such as the Chinese Daily News in Monterrey Park are presumably not exempt professionals.   

I have to imagine this is a slightly bitter-sweet victory for the reporters.  On the one hand, they won the right to collect back overtime pay.  On the other hand, the Ninth Circuit has essentially declared that, as a matter of law, they are a bunch of "unsophisticated" hacks who can't pretend to the title of a "professional" journalist.  In the law it's sometimes impossible to eat your cake and have it, too.

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