The Newton County Fire Department has reached a settlement with three battalion chiefs (BCs) following a 2019 lawsuit over FLSA overtime. The three BCs filed the suit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia in November 2019. The three alleged the county improperly reclassified BCs from overtime eligible first responders to overtime exempt employees in July 2018. Click here, for more on the original story, including a copy of the complaint, from firefighterovertime.org.
Here are some of the highlights from the settlement. The BCs will each receive $1,750 in back pay and another $1,750 in liquidated damages. The county will pay the BC’s attorney $9,000 in legal fees. Additionally, the three BCs will each pay their attorney $437.50 from the liquidated damages portion of their settlement. This results in a grand total of $10,312.50 paid to the BC’s attorney for initiating the suit and participating in the settlement process.
Finally, the county agreed to reclassify the BCs back to overtime eligible first responder status effective immediately with one very important caveat. The county still asserts the BCs were properly reclassified as overtime exempt executive and administrative employees in July 2018. The county is only agreeing to reclassify the BCs to non-exempt status for a minimum period of three years; the start of which is retroactive to July 1, 2019. Basically, the settlement requires the county classify BCs as overtime eligible first responders only until July 1, 2022. Ultimately, the county may opt to continue to pay BCs overtime longer than that, however it will not be bound to do so by the terms of the settlement.
This is likely a pretty sharp move on behalf of the county’s attorneys. The cost of litigation in this matter would easily dwarf the costs of paying the three battalion chiefs overtime for many years. Whether a shift commander is entitled to overtime requires a fact-based inquiry. Since the facts differ from community to community, there is a significant cost associated with this type of litigation.
If the county loses, it will likely be on the hook for significant amount of back pay, damages, and legal costs. If the county prevails in this suit, the cost of such a victory will be steep. Again, litigating these types of cases can get very expensive, even when you prevail. In fact, the costs associated with paying the county’s attorneys could likely exceed paying the BCs overtime BCs for many years.
Here is a copy of the settlement.