A seemingly divided Supreme Court on Monday weighed a potentially costly challenge to the pharmaceutical industry’s practice of not paying overtime to its sales representatives.
The justices questioned whether the federal law governing overtime pay should apply to the roughly 90,000 people who try to persuade doctors to prescribe certain drugs to their patients.
Many sales jobs are exempt from overtime pay under the Fair Labor Standards Act. But unlike typical salespeople who often work on commission, pharmaceutical sales representatives cannot seal a deal with doctors. Federal law, in fact, forbids any binding agreement by a doctor to prescribe a specific drug.
Two salesmen who once worked for drug maker GlaxoSmithKline filed a class-action lawsuit claiming that they were not paid for the 10 to 20 hours they worked each week on average outside the normal business day. Their jobs required them to meet with doctors in their offices, but also to attend conventions, dinners, even golf outings.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was among several justices who wondered about limits on overtime opportunities if the court were to rule for the sales reps. A court filing by the industry said drug companies could be on the hook for billions of dollars in past overtime.
“If you’re right, would the time on the golf course get time and a half?” Ginsburg asked the salesmen’s lawyer, Thomas Goldstein.
The questions at Monday’s argument suggested the court could divide in unusual ways, not along ideological lines.
In an exchange with Paul Clement, representing GlaxoSmithKline, Chief Justice John Roberts indicated he was skeptical of the company’s argument.
Clement said the salesmen “were hired for a sales job. They were given sales training. They attend sales conferences. They are assigned to sales territory, and they are evaluated and compensated as sales people.”
At this point, Roberts jumped in. “And they don’t do sales,” he said. “Your long list sort of stopped one step short. They don’t make sales.”
Fellow conservative Antonin Scalia, however, left little doubt where he stands, saying the people who filed the lawsuit “look like salesmen to me.”
Scalia said the sales reps are a key link in the chain that ends with people picking up prescriptions at pharmacies. “You can only get a prescription from a doctor. Obviously, the number of prescriptions, drugs sold depends upon the number of prescriptions given by doctors,” he said.
The Obama administration is backing the sales reps, arguing that what they do can’t be considered sales.
Liberal Justice Elena Kagan said the administration’s argument “seems a little bit blind to the way this industry really works.”
But later in the hourlong session, Kagan suggested the pharmaceutical industry should be grateful that the Labor Department has not previously sought to compel drug makers to pay overtime.
“You’ve been given a gift for all these years, is one way of looking at it,” she told Clement.
A decision is expected by late June.
The case is Christopher v. SmithKline Beecham Corp., 11-204.
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This Week’s Celebrity Instagrams (10/15-10/21)
31 photos Launch gallery
1. Just a NY girl with BIG dreams....
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2. HAPPY CHILDREN=QUALITY PARENTING. We don't always see eye to eye on everything and that's normal. We're human beings. But we come together and do it right for what's important, the kids. We are not enemies, we are parents. And we are parents 1st. S/O to @monyettashaw for making Mason's bday memorable. S/O to @itscrystalsmith at home taking care of our other lil' Prince. ❤️❤️❤️ THIS IS WHAT CO-PARENTING LOOKS LIKE. #Blessed #Happy #AboveTheDrama #BiggerThanUs
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3. So happy to finally be able to share with you all that I’m the new Global Brand Ambassador for @Revlon! Follow my day on RevlonSnaps. Yay! Choose Love, Everybody! #RevlonXCiara #chooselove #ad
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4. Glam on point!!!@makeupbymotoko & @shaylinjoneshair #easybreezy @lifetimetv #beachesmovie #january2017 😘
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5. ✨True love ✨📸: @jessiemarrerophotography
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7. Today was not easy..but by the grace of God we all got through it. Words cannot express our gratitude for all of your Prayers, Positive thoughts and Support for us throughout the years. Tommy will be missed but most certainly never forgotten...And PLEASE don't ask "Where's Martin?.." he was there too...just not in this picture. Lol! God bless you all.. #LoveConquersAll #MartinShow
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9. West coast get ready for #RockyHorror. I will be live tweeting again. #letsdothetimewarpagain
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10. #THEKEYS pre order yours now ... Available everywhere #NOV22 #WeTheBest 🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑🔑
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11. We about to ROCK at #KCABlackBall!! All for our life-changing effort to end 🌎 AIDS.
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12. Today's #SNAPJACK is brought to you by @yazzthegreatest 😂😂😂💋💋💋
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13. Damn girl you kinda old to be headed to the Go Go. You coming in at the age they leaving. LMAO
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14. Daddy daycare B-Boxin with @acewellstucker @shopraisingace
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15. #FBF Naviyd & URV "LIL MONSTERS"
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16. HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ONE OF THE BIGGEST LEGENDS IN OUR HIPHOP HISTORY! @snoopdogg CONTINUED BLESSING AND LOVE FAMILY!!!!! REAL OG!
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17. Thank you for a beautiful night VSU! Let's do it again! #HOMECOMING
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18. Had a great time this morning with my familia Erica, Griff & Truth!!
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19. Check out my interview on @essence facebook live. #inmyownwords #nycpromo #day2
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20. #She💋 #tbt #TheCoveAtTheAtlantis #DawgPawsAndAll
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21. Bae #retailtherapy
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22. Why me and @coryhardrict got the same pose... and notee... new mouth #naked
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23. When my husband is my personal 'hype-man'! it kills me every time! 💜😂 #WHATNOW #lostfiles📷
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24. Diggy Simmons
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25. Hand full of @jacquieaiche 💙💎💍 @esnail_la 💅🏾
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26. SuperSoulers! You can watch my interview with Carl Lentz live from my Facebook page, tomorrow at 11a ET| 8a PT. #SuperSoulSunday
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27. 💋 .. When the friendship is easy like Sunday morning. ☀️
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28. Sunday mornings are the best........... hugs and cuddles with my angel
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29. #huggar16 #hellohuggars
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30. My gym is everywhere!.. #RnBMoney #TheGeneral 📸: @twelvepastseven
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31. Nothing I would rather be doing... Rocko setting up our movie, Romelō working on a puzzle & Laiyah singing and sharing all she's learning at school... I'm so grateful for the joy they've brought into my life ... Praying for peace , joy & love in the home of EVERY family ♥️ #HeadScarfPJSunday LOL 😂
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