NC Paramedic Files FLSA Overtime Lawsuit Against County

A Wake County, North Carolina paramedic has filed a federal lawsuit alleging the county’s time tracking system fails to pay paramedics overtime as required by the FLSA. Paramedic Steven Gorrell filed this lawsuit, on behalf of himself and other similarly situated individuals, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina on March 16, 2021. [As a side note, since the lawsuit was filed last week, a potential 18 additional plaintiffs since have filed petitions to be included in the suit.]

The crux of Gorrell’s allegations pertain to the way the county pays paramedics for work performed on overnight shifts that span two different workweeks. According to Gorrell’s complaint the county’s pay policies require paramedics record their hours worked for an entire overnight shift on the workday the shift starts; not the actual day the hours are worked. Additionally, Gorrell claims that the county fails to properly pay paramedics for time spent attending required Continuing Medical Education classes, also in violation of the FLSA.

To explain further, here are some of Gorrell’s allegations as found in the complaint:

  • Defendant, through the Wake County Department of Emergency Medical Services, is responsible for providing emergency ambulance service throughout Wake County, North Carolina, on a twenty-four (24) hour per day basis.
  • When Plaintiffs are hired, Defendant advised Plaintiffs they would be compensated pursuant to an hourly rate for the first forty (40) hours of work and that they would be compensated at a rate of one and one-half (1.5) times their regular hourly rate for any hours worked over forty (40), i.e., overtime pay.
  • Pursuant to Defendant’s policy, the standard shift for Plaintiffs is a twelve (12) hour assignment, and Plaintiffs’ schedules are on a rotating schedule, which rotates biweekly.
  • Pursuant to Defendant’s policy, shifts have staggered start times: Day (06:00– 07:30); Early Peak (09:00–11:00); Late Peak (14:00–15:00); and Night (18:00–19:30).
  • Pursuant to Defendant’s policy, the structure of the FLSA workweek for Plaintiffs is that the workweek starts at 00:00 on Saturday and ends at 23:59 on the following Friday.
  • Pursuant to Defendant’s policy, Plaintiffs’ biweekly schedule is as follows: in week A, an employee would work three (3) twelve-hour shifts, and the following week, Week B, the employee would work four (4) twelve-hour shifts. Accordingly, Plaintiffs would work approximately thirty-six (36) hours in Week A and approximately forty-eight (48) hours in Week B.
  • Further, Defendant’s policy required employees working the Late Peak or Night shift—which meant a portion of their hours worked was on two separate days—to record all of their hours worked on the day their shift started instead of on the two separate days that they actually worked.
  • However, for any Continuing Medical Education (CME) training classes employees were required to work, Defendant’s policy required employees to list their hours on the day the CME class was actually completed. This was in line with Defendant’s policy that “Departments[, such as the Wake County Department of Emergency Medical Services,] are not allowed to ‘carry over’ extra hours worked in one workweek to another workweek.”
  • Further, the result of Defendant’s time-keeping policy for regular hours worked was that Plaintiffs’ workweek in Week A for FLSA purposes was one hundred seventy-four (174) hours instead of one hundred sixty-eight (168) hours as required by the FLSA because Plaintiffs would have to move or ‘carry over’ an additional six (6) hours or more to Week A from Week B when they worked the Late Peak or Night shift on Friday of Week A.
  • Upon information and belief, Defendant first implemented the following plan in approximately 2008 and has not changed it since its implementation. Accordingly, Plaintiffs have been continuously subjected to Defendant’s time-keeping policy for over three years prior to filing the present action.
  • Defendant’s own policy states that “[a]ll schedules must be in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA).” This policy further provides: “However, it shall be Wake County policy to avoid overtime work whenever possible.”
  • As described herein, Defendant willfully violated Plaintiffs’ rights by failing to pay them the wages they were owed.

As a general rule, the FLSA requires that employers pay employees for all hours worked each workweek. Employers cannot carry-over or account for hours worked in one workweek against another subsequent workweek. Adhering to the FLSA’s basic hours worked requirements for paramedics and other first responders that regularly work overnight and extended hours can prove challenging for employers. However, employers have a responsibility to manage and properly compensate employees for all of the hours that they are “suffered or permitted” to work.

Gorrell is seeking back wages, liquidated damages, and attorneys’ fees. Here is a copy of the complaint.

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