A North Carolina paramedic has filed a federal lawsuit against his employer, Duplin County Emergency Medical Services (DCEMS) alleging the county willfully violated both the FLSA and the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act (NCWHA). Paramedic Ryan Lang filed the federal lawsuit on behalf of himself and other similarly situated individuals (i.e. other EMTs that have worked for DCEMS over the past three years) on May 11, 2018.
While FLSA legal complaints involving firefighters, police officers, and EMS workers may seem the norm today, this complaint presents an additional allegation that is not very common. According to Lang’s complaint, the Department of Labor (DOL) investigated DCEMS’s pay practices in 2017 and determined the county violated several provisions of the FLSA. In particular, DCEMS misclassified EMTs as §207(k) firefighters and as a result failed to pay EMTs overtime for all hours worked over 40 every 7 days. The DOL determined current and former DCEMS EMTs were owed more than $225,000 in back overtime wages from the period between January of 2015 and January of 2017.
According to the DOL report, which is attached to Lang’s complaint, Duplin County officials admitted to DOL investigators that the EMTs in question did not qualify for the §207(k) partial exemption for firefighters. However, county officials disputed the method of calculating back overtime wages owed as a result of the misclassification.
Here are some relevant portions from the complaint:
- Pursuant to the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. § 207, employers must pay non-exempt employees at a rate of one and one-half (1.5) times their regular rate of pay, for all hours worked over forty (40) in a single workweek.
- At all relevant times, Named and Putative Plaintiffs were non-exempt, covered employees pursuant to the FLSA.
- In addition to Defendant explicitly conceding to the USDOL that it had misclassified Named and Putative Plaintiffs as exempt from the FLSA, no exemption under the FLSA applies to Named and Putative Plaintiffs.
- Named and Putative Plaintiffs do not qualify as exempt under § 207(k) since they were not trained in fire suppression, did not did not have the legal authority or responsibility to engage in fire suppression, were not employed by a fire department of a municipality, were not engaged in the prevention, control, and extinguishment of fires, were not empowered to enforce laws designed to maintain public peace and order, did not have the power to arrest, and did not receive training as to self-defense, firearm proficiency, criminal and civil principles, or law enforcement techniques.
- Named and Putative Plaintiffs’ duties were exclusively paramedical in nature.
- As a result of misclassifying Named and Putative Plaintiffs as exempt from the FLSA, Defendant failed to compensate Named and Putative Plaintiffs the rate of one and one-half (1.5) times their regular hourly rate each workweek, for hours worked over forty (40) in a workweek, in violation of 29 U.S.C. § 207.
- Named and Putative Plaintiffs are entitled to back wages at a rate of at least one and one-half (1.5) times their regular rate of pay.
- Defendant’s misclassification of Named and Putative Plaintiffs is in direct contrast to the express language of the FLSA, and Defendant refused to correct its practices even upon the USDOL’s findings and recommendations, and Defendant’s concession, that Named and Putative Plaintiffs were misclassified. Accordingly, Defendant is unable to defend their failure to pay overtime wages as having been done in good faith, entitling Named and Putative Plaintiffs to liquidated damages under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b).
- The foregoing conduct, as alleged above, constitutes willful violations of the FLSA within the meaning of 29 U.S.C. § 255(a), permitting the recovery of unpaid minimum wages for up to three (3) years, rather than two (2) years.
- As such, Named and Putative Plaintiffs seek to recover from Defendant the following damages:
- Overtime wages due;
- Liquidated damages in an equal amount;
- Reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs; and
- All other legal and equitable relief as the Court deems just and proper.
Whether Lang’s allegations are proven true is yet to be known, however it will be interesting to watch this case develop. In particular, what if any fiscal implications may flow from the county’s refusal to comply with the findings of the DOL investigation and pay approximately $225,000 in back wages. Very often the legal costs involved in FLSA litigation easily outpace back wages, court costs, and interest combined.
BTW, if Lang’s claims are proven, the county will most likely be paying for his lawyer, as well as its own. . .plus back wages, liquidated damages, court costs, and maybe even interest. . . We will keep you posted.
Here is a copy of the complaint.