$1.575 Million Settlement in Milwaukee Fire Department FLSA Suit

The City of Milwaukee, Wisconsin has proposed a settlement of more than $1.5 million with several hundred city firefighters following a 2020 FLSA lawsuit. The settlement, which still requires court approval, allocates up to $1.15 million for back wages and damages, up to $400k for the firefighters’ attorneys, another $25k for court costs, and an additional $5k for the firefighter that initially brought the suit. United States Magistrate Judge William E. Duffin has scheduled a hearing on December 20, 2022 for final approval of the settlement.

The lawsuit was initially filed in state court on May 8, 2020, but was moved at the city’s request to federal court on June 17, 2020. The firefighters had alleged the city’s pay practices violated the FLSA and several Wisconsin wage and hour laws. In particular, the firefighters claimed the city failed to include numerous wage augments in their regular rate of pay. These wage augments included longevity pay, EMT certification bonuses, temporary assignment bonuses, educational bonuses, and specialty unit bonuses. The firefighters contended the city based all overtime off a firefighter’s base rate and not the firefighter’s regular rate as required by the FLSA and Wisconsin law.

The FLSA requires virtually all the money an employee receives from his or her employer included in that employee’s regular rate of pay. The FLSA refers to this as remuneration. It is a common mistake for employers to believe overtime pay can be based on a negotiated pay rate instead of the employee’s regular rate. The FLSA requires that all federally mandated overtime be paid at a rate no less than time and one-half of the employee’s regular rate of pay. Failure to include common firefighter wage augments or bonuses like longevity, EMS and educational incentives, acting out-of-rank, and specialty pay in a firefighter’s regular rate will result in shorting their overtime rate.

Here are copies of the original complaint, joint motion for settlement approval, and the order granting preliminary approval of the settlement.

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