A federal magistrate Judge has ruled that an FLSA overtime lawsuit brought by more than 450 Kansas City, Missouri firefighters can continue as a collective action. The lawsuit, which was initially filed in 2019 by only two city firefighters, had grown to include more than 450 total firefighters. The city argued the firefighters lacked a “common interest” and as a result wanted the lawsuit broken up. If successful, the firefighters involved in this lawsuit would have been forced to file individual lawsuits.
The lawsuit centers around whether the city is required to include “specialty pay” in the firefighters’ regular rate of pay. According to the complaint, specialty pay is extra money paid to firefighters for specific assignments, certifications, and responsibilities. As a general rule, the FLSA requires additional pay given to firefighters for special assignments, certifications, and responsibilities included their regular rate. Failure to include these types of payments in a firefighter’s regular rate will likely result in shortchanging that firefighter on his or her FLSA overtime rate.
Seeking to break-up the class is a common defense tactic found in almost every FLSA collective action. The FLSA contains provisions intended to allow employees to pursue their collective complaints as a group as opposed to individually. Employers seek to break up the lawsuits, while plaintiff employees want to remain together as a common group. For now, this litigation moves forward to the next step and possibly a trial in the near future. We will be keeping a close eye out for those developments in the coming months.
The timeline surrounding this lawsuit is not unusual. The initial complaint was filed over two years ago. After twenty-six plus months of litigation it would appear that the parties are nowhere close to resolving their issues. As employers, it is wise to avoid the rabbit-hole of protracted FLSA litigation. Litigation is expensive. The costs associated with this litigation are mounting. Remember, if the firefighters’ claims are proven, the city will bear the costs of the firefighters’ attorneys in addition to the back wages, damages, and costs associated with the litigation itself. Also, the city is most likely engaging outside legal counsel to defend against the suit. The costs of the outside counsel are also paid by the city, regardless of the outcome.
If you have questions about the FLSA and how it applies to firefighters and other first responders, please consider attending one of our upcoming FLSA for Fire Departments Live Webinars. The next is only a few weeks away. Click here, for more information.
Here is a copy of the KC complaint and the most recent ruling.