Two former associate accountants at PricewaterhouseCoopers who have filed an overtime lawsuit against the firm are seeking class-action status in California.

The lawsuit contends that associates and senior associates at PwC were improperly denied overtime pay and other benefits. The case, Campbell v. PricewaterhouseCoopers, has been pending for over a year. A Sacramento-based law firm, Kershaw, Cutter & Rainoff, is handling the suit against PwC, and has been in consultation with other law firms filing suits against the other Big Four firms. However, this is the first of the cases to reach the class-certification stage.

"For years, the Big Four accounting firms have ignored federal and state laws mandating the payment of overtime to unlicensed accountants," said Bill Kershaw, a partner with the firm, in a statement. "This is in stark contrast to smaller accounting firms, many of whom comply with California's overtime law and pay overtime to their unlicensed associates as non-exempt employees."

He predicts that if the case is certified as a class action, it could have a significant impact on the way accounting firms do business nationwide. The lawsuit contends that under California law, only CPAs can properly be classified as exempt from receiving overtime pay.

However, PwC disagrees. "PwC greatly values these employees as integral parts of our client service teams and strictly complies with California state law governing their compensation," said PwC spokesman David Nestor. "Our associates and senior associates are appropriately classified as exempt employees under California law and are provided with the beneficial treatment associated with their exempt status." He noted that the litigation is in its very early stages and said PwC intends to defend against the lawsuit vigorously.

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