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Judge Amos Mazzant of the Eastern District of Texas Judge Amos Mazzant of the Eastern District of Texas

Originally published on National Law Journal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Even a labor lawyer who typically represents employers expressed surprise about the pre-Thanksgiving ruling issued by U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant.

Mazzant, who presides in a Sherman, Texas, courtroom, granted Texas and other states their request for a preliminary injunction to halt the Obama administration’s proposed regulatory revisions that would have doubled for most employees the salary threshold for overtime pay.

“Most of us thought of us this as more of a Hail Mary than anything else,” Alexander Passantino, a partner in the Washington,D.C. office of Seyfarth Shaw, said about the request before Mazzant.

On Nov. 22, Mazzant issued his memorandum and order barring the U.S. Department of Labor from implementing and enforcing its proposed new overtime rules, which had been scheduled to become effective Dec. 1.

Mazzant, who was appointed to the federal bench by President Barack Obama in 2014, granted the preliminary injunction, siding with the 21 states, including Texas, challenging the new overtime rules. The Texas-led coalition established “a prima facie case” that some of the DOL’s proposed changes were without statutory authority, Mazzant wrote.

DOL had estimated the rule changes would, if implemented, expand overtime coverage to more than 4 million additional workers.

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers must pay their nonexempt employees time-and-a-half for working more than 40 hours per week if the employees make less than $23,660 per year.

But under the proposed revision of the FLSA regulations, more employees would have gotten this mandatory overtime, as the exempt salary threshold will be raised to $47,476.

How did an Obama appointee derail what may be one of the president’s legacy policy changes, especially at a moment when they seem endangered?

“I don’t think you can read too much into the judge being appointed by Obama,” Passantino warned.

It’s true that Obama only tapped Mazzant after the Sherman judge got the necessary nod from Texas’ two Republican U.S. senators, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz. “They were pushing for his confirmation at the end,” Passantino said.

Prior to his appointment, Mazzant had served as a U.S. magistrate judge in the Eastern District of Texas. He filled a U.S. district court seat, which had not had a residing full-time judge in nearly seven years. Mazzant previously had served on Dallas’ Fifth Court of Appeals as a Republican.

“[Y]ou would not be here if you had not very much impressed the members of that committee, and had you not impressed both Sen. Cornyn and I,” Cruz said during a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in 2014, addressing Mazzant and two other Texas federal judges getting confirmed at the same time. “We met with each of you, and you had impressive professional credentials and a long career demonstrating the fidelity in the law that we expect from our judges,” Cruz added.

For his own part, prior to his confirmation, Mazzant put daylight himself and the President in response to a question posed by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa. Grassley asked Mazzant if he agreed with Obama’s statement that deciding the “truly difficult” cases requires applying “one’s deepest values, one’s core concerns, one’s broader perspectives on how the world works, and the depth and breadth of one’s empathy . . . the critical ingredient is supplied by what is in the judge’s heart”?

Mazzant wrote: “Although I am not aware of the full context of this quotation, as a judge for over ten years, I follow the rule of law and do not decide a case based upon my own personal views or whether I think one side should win or lose a case. With that being said, as a judge, I make sure that everyone who appears in court is treated with dignity and respect.”

Both Passantino and a lawyer who represents employees agree that Mazzant’s ruling will not be the last word and that it may, at least in the short term, inspire litigants.

“I believe this will result in more litigation. People will feel emboldened if they were preparing for this to happen,” said Glenn Levy of The Law Office of Glenn D. Levy in San Antonio, Texas, who usually represents employees.

Most of the cases will come from midsized shops, since larger employers will continue to audit and evaluate if employees’ duties make them eligible for overtime, Levy predicted.

Passantino agreed that an appeal of Mazzant’s ruling is likely. “I have a hard time imagining this will be the last word on it,” he said.

In the immediate future, he also expects some employers, which had prepared under the proposed DOL action to give targeted employee raises, will now face legal challenges.

“There are certainly employers who were planning to give people raises who will not give raises until this case shakes out. That gives a group of employees more reason to go talk to a lawyer and find out what is going on. I don’t know how long that will last,” Passantino said.

But attorneys who represent employees “will now have a talking point,” Passantino said.

In the long run though, he expects revised regulatory actions.

“There will be some action taken by the next administration,” Passantino said.

He is not prepared, however, to place a wager on what that will be.

“There are too many moving parts,” he said.

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