Appeals Court Strikes Down Labor Department’s Interpretation Regarding Exempt Status of Mortgage Loan Officers

By: Thomas H. Petrides , John L. Longstreth

In a victory for the Mortgage Bankers Association (“MBA”), a federal Court of Appeals has vacated an “Administrator’s Interpretation” issued in 2010 by the U.S. Department of Labor Wage and Hour Division (“DOL”) regarding the non-exempt status of mortgage loan officers. This court decision reinstates a prior Opinion Letter issued by the DOL in 2006 that had concluded loan officers in the mortgage banking industry generally may qualify as exempt from overtime under the administrative exemption of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). MBA had challenged the contrary 2010 Interpretation because it had been issued by the DOL without first conducting the “notice and comment” rulemaking process required under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”). The Appeals Court agreed with the MBA, but took no position on the merits of whether mortgage loan officers may in fact qualify under the administrative exemption to be exempt from the payment of overtime wages. Thus, the DOL may subsequently readopt the 2010 Interpretation after conducting the proper rulemaking procedures. In the interim, however, mortgage industry employers may choose to rely on the 2006 Opinion Letter to potentially escape overtime liability regarding their loan officers if they follow the guidance of that letter.

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