A federal judge ruled Wednesday that 13 editors and reporters at the Washington Post are artistic professionals and cannot invoke the overtime provisions of the Fair Labor Standards Act.
U.S. District Judge Gerhard A. Gesell said the editors and reporters are exempt from the 1934 law under longstanding Labor Department regulations that define artistic professionals as performing "predominantly original and creative" work.
The judge examined the work of 13 Post reporters and editors selected as representatives of a larger group of Newspaper Guild members who challenged the newspaper's policy in labor contracts that denies overtime pay to employees who earn more than a certain weekly salary.
At the Post, employees who earn more than $810 per week are not paid overtime.
Takes Special Talent
The 13 employees "produce original and creative writing of high quality within the meaning of the regulations; they have far more than general intelligence; they are thoroughly trained before employment; their performance as writers is individual, interpretive and analytical," the judge ruled.
"A special talent is necessary to succeed," he added.
Gesell dismissed the claims of the 13 reporters and editors but said other newsroom employees could continue to press their lawsuits.
The judge found that the Fair Labor Standards Act "was never intended to be a substitute for collective bargaining."
"Some professional employees may be under paid in the light of their contribution to the enterprise and the level of compensation that professionals in some other fields apparently receive these days. However, this matter remains to be resolved at the bargaining table."
No General Application
Gesell said "higher compensation may not be achieved by the plaintiffs' deprecation of the creative, responsible work they perform at the Post, so as to take advantage of the FLSA time-and-a-half pay for overtime requirement."
The judge stressed, however, that his finding about the 13 Post employees might not apply to reporters on other newspapers. "Each situation must be judged on its merits."
"It is not a question of making an exception for all reporters at this or any other newspaper but rather of determining whether or not these 13 individuals, while working for the Washington Post, fall within or without the expanding concept accepted for identifying professional work that has evolved through individual administrative actions and the general regulations themselves," Gesell said.