Cody Inman, a former 911 dispatcher for the City of Water Valley, Mississippi, has filed a federal lawsuit seeking back overtime and straight time wages in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi. The suit, which was filed November 8, 2018, alleges the city misclassified Inman as an “employee engaged in fire protection activities” (§207(k) firefighter) in addition to improperly deducting sleep time from Inman’s pay.
Here are some relevant portions of Inman’s complaint:
- During the week of June 17, 2018, the Plaintiff worked 64 hours. He was only paid straight time for 56 of those hours and was not paid at all for 8 hours. The reason for this was because the Defendant misclassified him as an “employee engaged in fire protection activities” in an effort to label the Plaintiff as an “exempt employee under the FLSA and for the purpose of deducting sleep time. The Plaintiff, however, does not fall under this exemption since he never performed any work related to fire suppression and is not a fireman.
- In the following weeks of his employment, the Defendant continued to deny the Plaintiff overtime pay and continued to improperly deduct sleep time. All told, the Plaintiff is owed 176 hours of overtime pay and 100 hours of straight time.
- Plaintiff is entitled to be paid time-and-one-half his regular rate of pay for each hour worked in excess of forty (40) hours per work week pursuant to the dictates of the FLSA.
- The Plaintiff is also entitled to straight time for the hours he was not paid at all pursuant to the dictates of the FLSA.
This is not the first time the City of Water Valley has dealt with FLSA litigation related to firefighters or dispatchers. In 2003, five Water Valley firefighters sued the city for allegedly misclassifying them as “employees engaged in fire protection activities” or §207(k) firefighters.
The distinction between §207(k) and non-§207(k) firefighters is significant. Under the FLSA, when employees are properly classified as §207(k) firefighters they are only eligible for overtime for hours worked over 53 in a week, or 212 in 28 days. Fire department employees that are not considered §207(k) firefighters, like most dispatchers, are most likely eligible for overtime for all hours worked over 40 in 7 days.
In order to meet the FLSA’s §207(k) requirements a firefighter must:
- Be employed by a public fire department,
- Be 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.
In the original 2003 lawsuit, the City of Water Valley was able to establish the five firefighter/dispatchers met the requirements of the FLSA’s §207(k) partial overtime exemption, as listed above. Therefore, they did not receive overtime after working 40 hours every 7 days. (If this sounds all too familiar, you must have attended one of our FLSA for Fire Department seminars. We review the original Water Valley case extensively during the Advanced §207 Exemption for Firefighters portion of the program.)
Finally, Inman’s complaint also alleges the city improperly utilized a sleep time deduction in violation of the FLSA. Under very specific circumstances Department of Labor (DOL) regulations allow deductions for time spent sleeping. Sleep time deductions allow employers to exclude, or deduct, certain hours in which an employee is sleeping from the employee’s pay. This is a very complicated portion of the FLSA regulations. In order to successfully utilize the sleep time deduction, employers must thoroughly review all the requirements and assure compliance on a daily basis.
Whether dispatchers can be properly classified as §207(k) firefighters and whether fire departments can legally deduct sleep time hours from a firefighter’s pay are only some of the topics that we cover in depth at all of the FLSA for Fire Department seminars. Please consider joining us.
Here is a copy of Inman’s complaint: