A former paramedic for the Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) has filed an FLSA lawsuit against his former employer, seeking unpaid overtime and other money damages for the past three years. Douglas Patterson filed the suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas. Patterson alleges that he and other paramedics did not receive all remuneration in their regular rate of pay and that they were not paid overtime for all hours worked over 40 every 7 days.
As of the filing, Patterson was the only named party. However, as is common in FLSA overtime actions, more similarly situated employees may “opt in” as the case develops. Specifically, the complaint makes two allegations against DFW Airport. DFW failed to include all remuneration in Patterson’s regular rate of pay, and DFW improperly classified Patterson and other paramedics as §207(k) firefighters.
Regular Rate Claims
Patterson alleged DFW failed to include non-discretionary educational bonuses in the regular rate of pay. According to the complaint, DFW Airport failed to include “paramedic incentive pay”—as well as an additional bonus for possessing a bachelor’s degree—in Patterson’s regular rate of pay. Remember, the regular rate requires virtually all remuneration paid to an employee included in the regular rate. Since all FLSA overtime must be at least time and one-half of the regular rate, properly calculating the regular rate is critical. Typically, these types of non-discretionary bonuses or incentives must be included in the regular rate.
Paramedic vs. §207(k) Firefighter Claims
Next, Patterson claims DFW Airport classifies paramedics as §207(k) firefighters (or employees employed in fire protection activities) in violation of the FLSA. The stakes are extremely high in these types of complaints. The prospect of looking back the last 2 or possibly 3 years and paying multiple paramedics overtime for all hours worked over 40 every 7 days, plus liquidated damages, legal fees and all of the other costs associated with litigation could be staggering.
Whether an EMT, paramedic, firefighter, or even a dispatcher can qualify for the §207(k) partial overtime exemption depends on whether they meet the definition of an employee engaged in fire protection activities. To be properly classified as an employee engaged in fire protection activities, the employee must be:
- Employed by a public fire department;
- Trained in fire suppression;
- Have the legal authority and responsibility to engage in fire suppression; and
- Be engaged in the prevention, control, and extinguishment of fires or response to emergency situations.
All four of the above requirements must be satisfied to meet the definition. Here, Patterson is claiming that he and other paramedics did not meet the second or third requirements. Here are some relevant passages from the complaint:
- Plaintiff and Class Members are not “employed in fire protection activities” as the term is defined in 29 U.S.C. § 207(y).
- Plaintiff and Class Members do not have the authority to engage in fire suppression at DFW Airport.
- Plaintiff and Class Members are not assigned with the responsibility to engage in fire suppression at DFW Airport.
- Plaintiff and Class Members have never actually engaged in fire suppression as part of their duties for Defendant.
- Plaintiff and Class Members’ job duties were separately defined from the job duties of firefighters.
- Plaintiff and Class Members are not trained in all duties of fire suppression.
- Plaintiff and Class Members are not equipped with all equipment necessary to engage in fire suppression. For instance, Plaintiff and Class Members are not provided with a self-contained breathing apparatus, which is required for firefighters working in and around fire.
- Plaintiff and Class Members work for the EMS Division, which has duties that are different from the employees that are employed as firefighters.
Whether Patterson and other potential paramedics will prove their claims is still unknown. We will have to keep a close eye on this one as it develops. Here is a copy of the complaint.