Cobb County Settles FLSA Suit with Fire Captain

Fire Captain David Simister and Cobb County, Georgia have agreed to a $30,000 settlement to end a lawsuit Simister filed in August 2020. Simister’s lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia on August 13, 2020, contained allegations the county failed to pay overtime as required by the FLSA and that the county retaliated against Simister after he complained about the way he was paid.

Simister made three basic allegations in the complaint. First, that the county misclassified Simister and other fire captains as overtime exempt employees in violation of the FLSA. Second, Simister alleged the county failed to include time spent working for the county in different capacities for overtime and regular rate purposes, also in violation of the FLSA and Department of Labor (DOL) regulations. Third, the county retaliated against Simister, by ending his part-time employment working for the county’s senior services and elections departments following his complaints over pay.

The county countered that Simister, and other county fire captains were overtime exempt employees, thus ineligible for any FLSA overtime. However, even if the court found the captains were eligible for overtime, the work performed in the different capacities was occasional and sporadic and therefore did not need to be included in determining overtime eligibility or pay.

In the end, the county and Simister opted to settle these claims and avoid the costs and uncertainty associated with protracted litigation. Specifically, this settlement provides Simister with $10,000 in back wages, another $10,000 in liquidated damages, and another $10,000 payable to Simister’s attorneys for the fees and costs associated with the suit. The settlement also references a “separately negotiated” resolution related to Simister’s retaliation claims; however, the agreement did not offer any further details.

Coincidently, the county reclassified fire captains as non-exempt (i.e. overtime eligible) hourly employees in August 2018. This factor likely reduced the overall costs associated with the settlement significantly.

This lawsuit, and eventual settlement serve as a healthy reminder for emergency service employers to carefully monitor the hours worked by both exempt and non-exempt employees. More specifically, employers must consider the FLSA implications from allowing employees to work in more than one capacity. For example, a city firefighter that also works for the city’s recreation department or public works department. There are most likely FLSA implications from such a dual assignment. Employers must be aware of these potential implications before finding themselves on the wrong end of a costly and avoidable FLSA suit.

Here is more on Simister’s complaint from last August. Also, here is a copy of the joint settlement order that was filed in federal court resolving the action.      

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