The City of Santa Clara, California has settled an FLSA lawsuit by agreeing to pay more than 650 current and former city employees a total of $2.7 million. While the terms of the settlement require the city to make payments to over 650 potential plaintiffs, the vast majority of which are non-firefighters, we will focus on how the settlement applies to firefighters and their claims for proper overtime pay.
In 2017, the city and union that represents Santa Clara firefighters began settlement discussions over alleged FLSA violations. Specifically, the firefighters wanted wage augments received for possessing paramedic and HAZMAT certifications, working out-of-rank, and money paid directly to firefighters for declining employer sponsored medical benefits included in their regular rate of pay. The FLSA requires these types of payments included in firefighter’s regular rate of pay. As a result of these discussions, the city and approximately 150 firefighters agreed to a $1.7 million settlement (SETTLEMENT I).
Despite the settlement reached by the city and the vast majority of city firefighters, five firefighters opted to file an an FLSA suit against the city anyway. In a lawsuit filed in October of 2018, the five firefighters made allegations regarding the city’s failure to include wage augments in the firefighter’s regular rate (same allegations that resulted in SETTLEMENT I). Additionally, they claimed firefighters only received a “portion of the FLSA damages” they were entitled to following the 2017 negotiations. And finally, the suit included the possibility of many more city workers joining the lawsuit. Basically, the firefighters were arguing that they were owed more money than SETTLEMENT I provided and other city workers were also entitled to back wages.
The FLSA and Department of Labor (DOL) rules require FLSA settlements be approved by either a court or the DOL (partly to prevent this type of scenario from occurring). The parties here failed to follow that critical step. Here is more on the October of 2018 suit, including a copy of the firefighters’ complaint from FirefighterOvertime.org:
Now, fast forward to last week, the city and the five plaintiff firefighters have agreed to another settlement (SETTLEMENT II). Terms of SETTLEMENT II will apply to the five plaintiff firefighters, another approximately 150 city firefighters, and approximately 500 “non-firefighter” city workers. In total $2.7 million will be paid to over 650 current and former city workers in addition to the $1.7 million that was paid previously. Here are the terms from SETTLEMENT II.
- The five named plaintiffs (firefighters that filed the lawsuit) will receive approximately $111,000 in total for all claims related to possible unpaid overtime. Additionally, the five will receive $5,000 each for being a named plaintiff in the lawsuit. This is common in FLSA litigation. Very often a court will award an additional sum of money to plaintiffs that are willing to take the additional risk and uncertainty that is often associated with filing an FLSA lawsuit.
- Approximately 150 Santa Clara firefighters that could have opted into the lawsuit—and previously accepted back wages under SETTLEMENT I—will share a total of approximately $516,000.
- Twenty-six former firefighter recruits will share a total of $229,960. As this litigation progressed, allegations surfaced that the city failed to pay overtime to recruit firefighters for hours worked during their training academy. The city classified firefighter recruits as §207(k) firefighters during their time at the fire academy and required recruits to work 56-hour workweeks without any FLSA overtime. The city agreed to pay the twenty-six former recruits’ sixteen hours of time and one-half overtime for every week that they attended the fire academy.
- Current and former Santa Clara police officers will receive a total of $287,251.
- Other city employees (non-firefighter and law enforcement) will receive the lion’s share of SETTLEMENT II. A total of $1,649,787 is allocated for these city workers that were not included in SETTLEMENT I.
- Finally, the attorneys that represented the five plaintiff firefighters will receive $150,000 in attorneys’ fees.’
The terms of SETTLEMENT II still must be approved by the court. But, hopefully this is the last that we will be talking about this one.
For more on the story from Mercury News, click here.
Here is a copy of the Joint Motion requesting settlement filed by attorneys’ representing both the city and firefighters.