The County of Riverside, California, has settled a lawsuit filed by 24 former trainees over unpaid overtime. The 24 claimed the county failed to pay trainees for all hours worked during their 26-week training academy.
The lawsuit was initially filed by Matthew Dashiell, a former sheriff’s deputy trainee. Dashiell was a trainee at the sheriff’s department training academy in 2013. According to the complaint, Dashiell was eventually terminated by the sheriff’s department later in 2013. Dashiell filed the suit in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California in January of 2015.
Dashiell claimed that he and many other trainees worked above and beyond the 40 hours per week the county paid them during training. Dashiell estimated that he and other trainees worked an additional 15 hours of unpaid time every week. Dashiell cited the following as examples of activities academy instructors required trainees to perform without compensation:
- Arrive early in the morning to participate in physical fitness training
- Stay late completing tasks assigned by academy instructors
- Complete homework assignments after hours
Additionally, Dashiell claimed the county failed to keep accurate records of the hours trainees actually spent working during the academy.
While Dashiell was initially the only plaintiff, an additional 23 former trainees joined the suit over the course of the litigation and were included in the final settlement. It is very common in FLSA class actions for the number of plaintiffs to grow over time. One employee, or very often former employee, makes the initial allegations against the employer. An attorney files a complaint with the court that not only includes that individual, but also includes other unnamed similarly situated individuals as possible plaintiffs. After the case is filed in the court, similarly situated current and former employees are notified of the pending suit. These additional individual’s typically opt-in to the lawsuit and are included in any settlement.
The settlement requires the county pay a total of $515,000 in damages and attorneys’ fees. The attorneys representing the trainees will receive approximately $157,000, while the remaining $358,000 will be dispersed to the 24 former trainees.
This settlement raises a couple of key points that all senior public safety officers need to consider.
First, the Fair Labor Standards Act requires employers pay employees for all hours suffered or permitted to work. Well-intentioned academy instructors need to understand the ramifications behind statements such as, “You better learn that skill by tomorrow morning” or “You will arrive 2 hours early tomorrow for extra PT”. These types of statements open the door for potential wage and hour violations.
Next, it is the employer’s responsibility to maintain records indicating the hours an employee works. It is imperative that academy instructors keep accurate records of the hours trainees are required to work. In the event a former trainee raises these types of allegations, accurate employer records are critical to minimize and possibly even avoid eventual liability.
The compensability of training time is one of many topics covered in depth at all of our FLSA for Fire Department’s seminars. Please consider joining us.
Here are copies of the initial complaint and eventual settlement.