Illinois County Faces Lawsuit Filed By Homeland Security/Emergency Management Personnel Over White Collar Overtime Exemption

Cook County, Illinois is the latest employer dealing with an overtime lawsuit filed by county workers. Three Regional Coordinators for Cook County Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM) filed a lawsuit on August 21, 2019 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois seeking unpaid overtime. Regional Coordinators Christopher Bruce, John David Daniel, and Brian Daliege (plaintiffs) allege Cook County DHSEM fails to pay them overtime despite regularly working more than forty hours per week in violation of both the FLSA and the Illinois Minimum Wage Act.

Here are some of the facts as alleged in the complaint:

  • Plaintiffs are employed by Cook County and/or are specifically assigned (employed) by the Cook County Department of Homeland Security & Emergency Management (DHSEM).
  • The Plaintiffs BRUCE CHRISTOPHER, JOHN DAVID DANIEL, BRIAN DALIEGE all share the Job Title of “Regional Coordinator” or “Regional Coordinator for Homeland Security and Emergency Management” (hereinafter referred to as “RC”). 28. The RC job duties, as found in the Defendant’s job description, reads:
  • Under the direction of the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency Management (DHSEM) Executive staff, assists local incident commanders in accessing assets during crisis response and mitigation efforts. Assists in the conduct of DHSEM communications operations during a critical incident. Instructs external first responders in the operation and use of DHSEM resources and operational plans. Operates all DHSEM technology solutions and receives and transmits critical information to and from first responders. Passes critical information to DHSEM management and assists senior leaders in the assessing of DHSEM assets during crisis response and mitigation efforts. Performs other duties as assigned
  • By this duty description the Plaintiffs should be classified as non-exempt, given these job duties. These job duties do not fall into any exempt classification.
  • Plaintiffs are, in essence, First Responders, responding to emergency situations. While Plaintiffs have some communication duties, these are duplicate most First Responder’s work duties.
  • The United Stated Department of Labor regulations also support this claim. The DOL Fact Sheet 17J, specifically states that First Responders are typically non-exempt.
  • Further evidence of Plaintiffs’ misclassification is found in the Plaintiffs’ own communications with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In a meeting and a power point presentation given by DHS, the DHS officials stated that the Plaintiffs should be paid hourly, and paid overtime wages.
  • Plaintiffs’ also approached a US Department of Labor employee, Madge Bean, and inquired about their classification. That DOL employee also stated that the Plaintiffs were misclassified.
  • Lastly, the Plaintiffs have approached their own employer, Cook County, asking for reclassification, their efforts were not successful, this is also further evidence of willfulness, as Defendant refused to consider the above strong evidence of misclassification.
  • The Plaintiffs’ primary job duty is/was responding to emergency calls. The Plaintiffs’ lacked discretion to refuse to respond to emergency calls, which take priority over all other aspects of their jobs.

It is apparent after reading the complaint the plaintiffs want to establish their primary duties are acting as first responders and not as high-level managers or administrators within the emergency management agency [as the county will likely argue]. This is especially important for the plaintiffs’ overtime claims because Department of Labor (DOL) regulations clearly state first responders are entitled to FLSA overtime pay and cannot be classified as overtime exempt “white-collar” employees.

For more on the DOL’s First Responder Regulations click here.

Now, for the million-dollar question: Are these three regional coordinators first responders? That will likely be determined in the coming months following a highly fact-based inquiry of the coordinator’s salary and job duties. We will keep a close eye on this one as it develops.

Here is a copy of the complaint.

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