Federal appeals courts have ruled differently on the issue of whether pharmaceutical sales representatives are or are not exempt from the overtime pay provision of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), so today the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to consider the issue.

The case in question is Christopher v. SmithKline Beecham Corp. Christopher and other such plaintiffs argue that their positions do not entail sales but merely the representation of the pharmaceutical companies in a function similar to public relations. Thus they are due overtime pay as non-exempt employees and are not exempt from FLSA time-and-a-half provisions as outside sales representatives.

An interconnected issue is whether the courts are obliged to follow interpretations of the FLSA by the Department of Labor (DOL). Before 2009, the DOL maintained that pharmaceutical representatives do indeed fall under the FLSA's definition of outside sales representatives, who are exempt employees and not subject to federal overtime rules, but the department shifted its position when the Obama administration was sworn in.

As for deferring to the DOL's interpretation, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that it had no such obligation while the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court did so defer. 

Now it is in the Supreme Court's hands to rule on who or what rules.

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