Lawyers for Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan and legal staffing agency Providus argued in Manhattan federal district court Tuesday that a contract attorney who did a document review stint for the Am Law 100 firm functioned as a lawyer and was not entitled to overtime pay—and should therefore have a suit he filed claiming otherwise dismissed.
In the suit, which was filed in March, attorney William Henig alleges that Quinn Emanuel and Providus violated overtime pay requirements specified in the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) during the brief time he spent with the firm as a contract attorney doing document review “relating to pending litigation.”
Filed on Henig’s behalf by Joseph & Kirschenbaum partner D. Maimon Kirschenbaum as a potential class action, the suit claims Providus placed Henig at Quinn Emanuel in a temporary assignment that started in mid-August 2012 and lasted roughly six weeks.
As The Am Law Daily reported in March, the complaint claims that Henig did not receive overtime pay—which, he argues, would have been equal to one-and-a-half times his regular hourly wage, according to FLSA rules—for the time he worked beyond 40 hours during the weeks Quinn Emanuel employed him.
The FLSA does offer exemptions to overtime rules for a range of employees, including trained lawyers. But Henig and Kirschenbaum argue that the document review Henig performed was so routine in nature that, regardless of Henig’s training, it did not meet the standards of exempted work requiring “advanced knowledge,” as outlined by the FLSA. (Henig is a licensed attorney currently working as a solo practitioner.)
In his complaint, Henig claims Quinn Emanuel—which filed a motion to dismiss the suit in April—and Providus acted as “joint employers” under FLSA rules.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Quinn Emanuel white-collar and corporate investigations cochair Marc Greenwald—who is representing the firm in the matter—argued that Henig’s background as a trained attorney and his role reviewing documents related to high-stakes litigation matters for the firm made his work exempt under FLSA rules.
Greenwald told U.S. District Judge Ronnie Abrams that Quinn hired Henig because he is an attorney and that his work rose to the level of practicing law, no matter how mundane it may have been. (Bryan Cave labor and employment partner Zachary Hummel, who is representing Providus, spoke briefly and echoed Greenwald’s arguments.)
Greenwald attempted to hammer home the idea that Quinn Emanuel hired Henig in order to have someone with legal expertise looking over the documents in question. “[Quinn] could have hired out-of-work actors for this,” he said. That the firm chose to bring in an attorney indicates that Henig was expected to provide lawyerly work, he insisted.
Kirschenbaum countered by pointing out that Henig’s work for Quinn Emanuel consisted only of searching documents for “keywords” and then sorting the documents accordingly—something Kirschenbaum said could easily have been performed by a computer or a paralegal, making it nonlawyerly in nature. That Henig is a lawyer does not mean he was specifically hired as a lawyer, he argued, adding: “He is a lawyer, and he was hired.”
Abrams reserved her decision on the motion to dismiss.
Kirschenbaum—who has a history of pursuing prominent targets in the legal and restaurant industries with wage-and-hour disputes—represented another contract attorney in a 2010 suit brought against Labaton Sucharow. That suit, settled later that year under terms that were not disclosed, also claimed the attorney had not been adequately paid for overtime work he did for that firm.