A group of fifteen firefighters and their local union, are suing the Town of Chesterton, Indiana, over unpaid overtime that dates back almost 10 years. The suit, which was filed on February 16, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana alleges the town has “willingly, deliberately and intentionally refused to pay Chesterton Firefighters for time and one-half pay for overtime worked” for the past 9 years. The firefighters claim the town violated both the FLSA and other Indiana state laws. They are seeking back wages, an equal amount of liquidated damages, attorney’s fees and expenses.
According to the firefighters, the town has adopted a 27-day work period for FLSA overtime purposes. The FLSA’s §207(k) partial overtime exemption requires firefighters receive overtime for all hours worked over 204 every 27 days. In lieu of paying the firefighters overtime (for all or some of the hours they worked) each work period, the town provided firefighters with the four 24-hour days off per year (similar to vacation leave).
The crux of the firefighters’ complaint relates to these four 24-hour paid days off firefighters receive annually and whether those days off in fact reduce or eliminate the need to pay firefighters FLSA overtime.
While this practice had been in effect in some form or another since before 2011, firefighters recently questioned whether this paid time off plan met the requirements of the FLSA. According to the firefighters’ complaint the town assured firefighters the paid time off policy met FLSA requirements.
Here are some of the firefighters’ allegations from the complaint:
- At all times relevant herein, Chesterton Firefighters are held to a twenty-seven (27) day work period for purposes of Section 7(k) of the Act.
- Pursuant to the Act (FLSA), Chesterton Firefighters are owed overtime when their hours exceed 204 hours in the twenty-seven (27) day work period.
- From at least 2011 until January 1, 2019, the parties entered into yearly employment agreements (hereinafter referred to as the “Former Agreements”).
- In accordance with Section 3 of the Former Agreements, entitled “Vacation Accrual”, Chesterton Firefighters received four (4) 24-hour shifts in conjunction with other benefits.
- At some point prior to 2011, Plaintiffs and Defendant entered into negotiations regarding the amount of overtime owed to Chesterton Firefighters in a given work period.
- Defendant advised Plaintiffs that Section 3 satisfied the Act (FLSA) with respect to overtime owed to Chesterton Firefighters.
- Section 3 did not and does not satisfy the Act (FLSA) and Chesterton Firefighters are owed compensation for overtime worked.
- From at least 2011 until January 2, 2019, Chesterton Firefighters were not provided the appropriate compensation for overtime worked.
- For the years 2010, 2011, and 2012, the Former Agreements allowed for the four (4) 24- hour shifts to be used “the same as vacation days.”
- From the years 2013 to the present, the Former Agreements allowed for Chesterton Firefighters to use their four (4) 24-hour shifts in accordance with “department policy”.
- In early 2018, the Plaintiffs were informed that Defendant would no longer be providing the Chesterton Firefighters with four (4) 24-hour shifts which had been in place since 2011.
- Plaintiffs requested a meet and confer with Defendant.
- Defendant refused to meet and confer with Plaintiffs in good faith on this issue.
- Nevertheless, the parties negotiated the terms of the 2019 Agreement.
- Specifically, Defendant agreed to continue to provide Chesterton Firefighters with their four (4) 24-hour shifts each year in addition to any other time required in order for Defendant to be in compliance with the Act.
- Defendant represented to Plaintiffs on multiple occasions that “nothing would change”, “everything would remain the same”, and the status quo of the past nearly eight years would be maintained in 2019.
- During negotiations, Plaintiffs verbalized and memorialized in writing, their concern with losing their ability to utilize their four (4) 24-hour shifts the same as vacation or on an as needed basis.
- Plaintiffs specifically requested that the department policy referenced in Article VIII, Section 3(d) of the 2019 Agreement be attached to the Agreement as an appendix item for fear that Defendant would enter into the 2019 Agreement and then suddenly change the department policy to Plaintiffs’ detriment.
- Defendant refused to include the department policy as an appendix item to the 2019 Agreement and reassured Plaintiffs repeatedly that everything would remain the same, including the department policy and Plaintiffs’ usage of the four (4) 24-hour shifts as vacation time or as needed.
- Given the above representations, the parties entered into the 2019 Agreement on December 26, 2018.
- The department policy in effect on the date of signing the 2019 Agreement allowed for the Chesterton Firefighters to utilize their four (4) 24-hour shifts the same as vacation time or as needed.
- On January 2, 2019, one day after the 2019 Agreement became affective, Defendant changed the department policy to Plaintiffs’ detriment.
For more on the story from The Times (Munster, Indiana) click here.
Here is a copy of the complaint: