PA Shift Commander’s FLSA Overtime Lawsuit to Continue

An FLSA overtime lawsuit filed last fall by a retired deputy fire chief will continue following a recent federal court ruling. Retired First Deputy Fire Chief Gary Mogel filed the lawsuit in September 2020, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. Mogel alleges in his lawsuit that his employer, the City of Reading Pennsylvania, failed to pay him FLSA overtime in violation of federal law.

It is common in the early stages of FLSA litigation for both the plaintiff and the defendant to petition the court in an effort to have the judge decide the case based on undisputed facts gathered in the initial discovery phase of the litigation prior to trial. Here, U.S. District Court Judge John M. Gallagher, ruled that a trial is necessary to determine whether Deputy Mogel was in fact exempt from the FLSA’s overtime requirements. This ruling is important for several reasons.

First, whether any employee can be properly classified as an overtime exempt “white-collar” employee requires a careful examination of the facts. Understandably, Deputy Mogel and his former employer do not agree on many of the key facts necessary to make this determination. When the parties disagree, the court must make a decision based on facts, examination of evidence and credibility of witnesses. Recently, several courts have dismissed overtime claims raised by fire department shift commanders without allowing the shift commanders an opportunity to testify at trial.

Second, whether fire department shift commanders (Battalion Chiefs, Deputy Chiefs, etc) can be classified as overtime exempt “white-collar” employees and still be assigned to a platoon-type schedule (24-hour shifts) is probably the most highly debated FLSA issue in the fire service today. In 2004, the Department of Labor issued regulations aptly entitled the “First Responder Regulations.” The First Responder Regulations clearly state that first responders, firefighters that have a primary duty of responding to emergencies are entitled to overtime pay under the FLSA “regardless of rank or pay level.”

Here, the City of Reading will need to prove retired Deputy Mogel’s primary duty, which the DOL defines as the employee’s principal, main, and most important job duty, was acting as a manager and not a fire officer. Regardless of the outcome, Deputy Chief Mogel will at least have an opportunity to present evidence and testimony for the court to reach a determination. Additionally, a well-reasoned decision (regardless of the outcome) will likely prove extremely valuable for other fire service professionals struggling to apply the FLSA’s “white-collar” overtime exemptions to fire department shift commanders.

Here is more on the suit from FirefighterOvertime last year, including a copy of Mogel’s complaint.

Here is more on Battalion Chiefs, Executive Exemption, and FLSA Overtime.

Here is the copy of the latest ruling.

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