Ten Cobb County, Georgia battalion chiefs have filed a federal lawsuit alleging the county has failed to pay them overtime as required by federal law. More specifically, the battalion chiefs claim the county misclassified them as overtime exempt “white collar” employees in violation of the FLSA. Quoting from the complaint:
- Within the last three years, and continuing to date, while working at the rank of Battalion Chief, Plaintiffs’ primary job duty has been and remains, to respond to and protect and serve the public by engaging in fire suppression, emergency response, and related non-exempt activities.
- Pursuant to Cobb County’s communication policy, Battalion Chiefs are automatically dispatched to commercial fires, house fires, hazmat (levels B and C), drownings, swift water rescues, tornado touch downs, trenches, water rescues, bus accidents with injuries, any extractions, train derailments, aircraft emergencies, high rise alarms, mobile home fires, multi-causality incidents, building collapses, explosions with injuries, maydays, and when bomb devices are located. In addition, Cobb County’s policy states that “once an alarm reaches three or more pieces of equipment, a [Battalion Chief]’s car will automatically be dispatched.”
- Regardless of what other duties, including any administrative or managerial duties, the Battalion Chiefs are performing at the time, when an emergency call comes in, it takes precedence over everything else.
- While on the scene of fire calls, Plaintiffs and all others similarly situated regularly work alongside the crew, engaged in the control, suppression and extinguishing of fires and the rescue of fire and accident victims.
- Moreover, Plaintiffs and all others similarly situated are also required to complete all of the same training as other frontline fire fighters and are required to maintain EMS and Hazmat certifications. In addition, they are strongly encouraged to have a paramedic’s license.
- Likewise, their vehicles are all equipped with two air packs, a water can, irons, hook, a jump bag and Thermal Imaging Cameras (“TIC”) – all critical pieces of equipment used in fire suppression and emergency response.
- Plaintiffs have no authority to hire, fire or discipline employees.
- Plaintiffs, and those similarly situated, are non-exempt employees covered by the overtime provisions of the FLSA.
- Within the last three years, and continuing to date, Plaintiffs, and those similarly situated, have worked and continue to work the same schedule as all other fire fighters employed by Defendant at the CCFD, which consists of 24-hours on-duty followed by 48-hours off duty. This work schedule repeats every three days and, as a result, Plaintiffs, and those similarly situated, routinely work more than 40 hours in a workweek, and in fact at least 168 hours every 21 days.
- Despite suffering and permitting Plaintiffs and those similarly situated to work in excess of the statutory maximums of 40 hours in a workweek and 159 hours in each 21-day cycle, Defendant at all material times and ongoing, has failed to pay Plaintiffs and those similarly situated at the required rate of one and one-half time their rate of pay for those hours.
Whether high-ranking officers, like the battalion chiefs in Cobb County can be classified as overtime exempt “white-collar” employee depends on the specific facts and circumstances of the situation. It is possible for battalion chiefs in one city to be properly classified as overtime exempt, while a neighboring city’s battalion chiefs are entitled to FLSA overtime. It depends on the specific facts. Here the battalion chief’s attorneys did a good job of laying out some key facts that tend to support the chiefs’ primary duty as fighting fires and responding to emergencies as opposed to acting as an “executive” for the agency. We will be keeping a close eye on this one as it develops.
Do you have questions related the FLSA and DOL “white-collar” overtime exemptions? If yes, please consider joining us for the live webinar entitled: Advanced FLSA: Executive Exemption-Fire Officers and Overtime on Thursday June 15, 2023, at 1PM (EST). Click here, for more information. This advanced program takes a deep-dive into recent court decisions and litigation related to fire officers and the various “white-collar” overtime exemptions.
Here is a copy of the complaint.