A Columbiana Ohio, police officer recently filed a rather straight-forward lawsuit containing allegations of unpaid overtime. Patrolman Bryan Granchie, a K-9 officer for the Columbiana Police Department filed the lawsuit, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, alleging the city failed to pay him for hours worked caring for his K-9 work partner “Csuti.” Lawsuits for off-the-clock work activities, like this one, are fairly common today. Generally speaking, time spent by public safety officers in the care and maintenance of their K-9 partners is compensable work time. Even if work time occurs during so-called “off-duty” hours.
However, this straight-forward case took an unusual turn shortly after Officer Granchie’s lawsuit was filed. According to the Morning Journal, Granchie requested permission from his chief to travel with his K-9 partner, to a neighboring city for a fellow K-9 officer’s funeral on October 1st [6 days after the filing of the lawsuit]. The police chief denied the request, despite allowing a similar trip only a few months prior. The denial has led to accusations of retaliation from the Ohio Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (the union that represents Granchie and other city officers). According to union attorney Danielle Chafin, Granchie has filed an internal retaliation complaint with the city manager. As of this date, Granchie has yet to file an amended complaint in federal court claiming FLSA retaliation in addition to his unpaid overtime claims.
Employers must exercise extreme caution when managing employees that have exercised their rights under the FLSA. The FLSA contains broad and far-reaching ant-retaliation provisions. Section 215(a)(3) of the FLSA contains the following:
It shall be unlawful… to discharge or in any other manner discriminate against any employee because such employee has filed any complaint or instituted or caused to be instituted any proceeding under or related to this chapter…
In fact, the FLSA’s anti-retaliation provisions do not require the plaintiff (i.e. the employee) prove the underlying FLSA claim in order to prevail on a retaliation claim. For example, an employee can claim that his or her employer misclassified them as an overtime exempt employee. The employer can prove the employee was properly classified as overtime exempt, yet still be liable to the employee for damages associated with retaliation. Additionally, most often damages in FLSA litigation is limited to back wages and liquidated damages. Damages for retaliation can include pain and suffering, punitive damages, and even pain and suffering and emotional damages for the employee’s family members under certain conditions. Bottom line, employers do not want to face retaliation claims following an alleged FLSA violation.
We will be keeping a close eye on this one as it develops. If you have questions about the FLSA and how it impacts public safety professionals, please consider attending the FLSA for Fire Departments Live Webinar. The next class is next week. For more information click here.
Here is more on Patrolman Granchie’s allegations click here.