The Interpublic Group of Companies has been slapped with a lawsuit from a former planning associate who claims the company illegally classified her as a type of employee not entitled to overtime pay.
The former employee, Heather Freireich, claims she regularly worked more than 40 hours a week, and that it wasn’t unusual for her to work close to or more than 50 hours a week without overtime pay, in violation of Federal and New York City and State employment laws.
She filed her lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan on Oct. 22.
The suit comes at a time when the ad industry is facing what many believe is a talent crisis as many of the country’s best and brightest college graduates pursue careers in more lucrative professions. In a commentary this summer, 4As President Nancy Hill noted that the group’s most recent survey (2014) found that entry-level salaries (Assistant Account Executive and Assistant Media Planner) are between $25,000 and $28,000.
“Those numbers haven’t changed significantly in a decade,” Hill wrote in The Wall Street Journal’s CMO Today column. “There is something terribly wrong with this equation.” She noted that starting salaries in other industries, like technology and consulting, are three times or more what Adland pays.
In her lawsuit, Freireich said that she was paid a salary of $33,000 as an associate working on an integrated planning team at J3 -- part of Universal McCann, which was established a few years back as a dedicated unit to the Johnson & Johnson business.
Freireich held the position from March to August of this year and said she accrued about 160 hours of overtime that was not paid. She calculated in her lawsuit that her regular rate of pay was $15.87 per hour and that her overtime pay should have been $23.81 per hour.
If Freireich were to prevail in the legal battle, the numbers could add up pretty quickly for IPG. The plaintiff is seeking class-action status, potentially covering every associate-level employee at the company over the past three years. Under the laws she cited in her suit, a ruling in her favor could also add putative damages equal to the amount of the unpaid overtime plus interest.
Attempting to make a case that she was not exempt from overtime pay status, Freireich presented her role at the firm as essentially that of a low-level minion who obeyed orders and nothing more. “Plaintiff’s work, including emails, was reviewed by senior team members, and at no time did Plaintiff exercise any discretion and independent judgment,” the suit contends. Nor did her duties “involve work that required invention, imagination, originality or talent in a recognized field of artistic or creative endeavor.”
IPG has not yet filed a response with the court to the lawsuit.