The City of Encinitas, California is the latest city to face an FLSA overtime lawsuit from a fire department battalion chief. The lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California on April 8, alleges the city misclassifies battalion chiefs as overtime exempt employees in violation of the FLSA. As of now, the lawsuit has only one named plaintiff, Battalion Chief James Mickelson. However, the lawsuit was filed on behalf of Mickelson and “other similarly situated individuals.” Generally, this means that other current and former fire department employees, most likely other battalion chiefs, will eventually join the lawsuit.
Mickelson’s claims are rather straightforward. Quoting from the complaint:
- Plaintiffs and all similarly situated individuals are or were non-exempt employees of Defendant during the three years preceding the filing of this action.
- At all times relevant herein, Defendant required or suffered or permitted Plaintiffs to work overtime hours under 29 U.S.C. Section 207.
- Plaintiff and all similarly situated individuals regularly respond to, and participate in, calls for rescuing fire and accident victims.
- Plaintiff and all similarly situated individuals regularly respond to calls for responding to, and participating in, medical calls for service, (as fully certified Paramedics and/or EMT’s).
- Plaintiff and all similarly situated individuals regularly carry and use fire suppression and medical equipment kept and maintained in their Department vehicles.
- At all times relevant herein, Defendant improperly treated employees of its Fire Department who held the rank of battalion chief as exempt from overtime compensation under the FLSA. For that reason, Defendant failed to compensate Plaintiff for all overtime hours worked at time and one-half their regular rates of pay.
- Defendant required, suffered or permitted Plaintiff and all similarly situated individuals to work overtime, but failed to properly compensate Plaintiff and similarly situated individuals at time and one-half the “regular rate” of pay.
- Defendant’s failure to compensate Plaintiff and all similarly situated individuals as required by the FLSA was neither reasonable nor in good faith.
- Defendant’s failure to compensate Plaintiff and all similarly situated individuals as required by the FLSA was a willful violation of the FLSA. Based on Defendant’s willful violation of the FLSA, Plaintiff and all similarly situated individuals are entitled to damages and liquidated damages as allowed by the FLSA for a period of three years immediately preceding the filing of this action.
- The employment and work records for Plaintiff and similarly situated individuals are in the exclusive possession, custody and control of the City, and Plaintiff are unable to state at this time the exact amounts owing to them. The City is under a duty imposed by the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. Section 211(c), and the regulations of the United States Department of Labor, to maintain and preserve payroll and other employment records.
Lawsuits like this one are not unique. Battalion chiefs from Alexandria, Virginia filed a federal lawsuit making similar claims only a few months ago. Click here, for more on that lawsuit. Also, the City of Muscatine, Iowa recently settled an FLSA misclassification lawsuit involving fire department captains and battalion chiefs from that city last month. Click here for more on that story.
There is no “one-size fits all” approach when it comes to fire officers and overtime. Whether any high-ranking fire department officer [shift commanders, battalion chiefs, deputy chiefs, etc.] can be properly classified as an overtime exempt executive employee depends on the specific facts involved. It is possible to have a battalion chief in one community properly classified as overtime exempt, while the battalion chief in a neighboring jurisdiction is entitled to FLSA overtime.
Do you have questions about fire officers and overtime? If yes, please consider attending our next Advanced FLSA webinar series entitled: Executive Exemption: Fire Officers and Overtime. In this live webinar we take a “deep dive” into why some fire officers can be properly classified as overtime exempt “white-collar” employees, while others are entitled to federally mandated overtime. Our next offering is April 27, 2022, at 1 pm. Click here, for more information.
Here is a copy of Mickelson’s complaint.