Former Lumpkin County Fire Department Battalion Chief Sharon Booth has filed suit against her former employer alleging that the county misclassified her as an overtime exempt employee in violation of the FLSA. The lawsuit, which was filed on November 30, 2022, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia contains rather straightforward claims of unpaid overtime for both scheduled work shifts, monthly command staff meetings, off-the-clock work activities [answering phone calls, sending, and receiving text messages and emails, etc.] and serving in an “on call capacity.” Quoting from the complaint:
- Defendant hired Plaintiff in approximately September 2008 as a paramedic/firefighter for the Lumpkin County Fire Department.
- In January 2012, Defendant promoted Plaintiff to Battalion Chief.
- Plaintiff’s employment with Defendant ended in approximately October 2022.
- While Plaintiff was employed as a Battalion Chief, her primary duties included fighting fires, rescuing fire and accident victims, and minimizing property damage from accidents and fires.
- While Plaintiff was employed as a Battalion Chief, she was trained in fire suppression and emergency medical services, had the legal authority and responsibility to engage in fire suppression, was employed by a fire department of a county and was engaged in the prevention, control, and extinguishment of fires or response to emergency situations where life, property, or the environment was at risk.
- As a Battalion Chief, Plaintiff’s primary duty was to fight fires, rescue fire and accident victims, and minimize property damage from accidents and fires.
- In performing her job duties for Defendant, Plaintiff did not have the authority to hire or fire any employee.
- In performing her job duties for Defendant, Plaintiff did not exercise any discretion or independent judgment with regard to matters of significance.
- Plaintiff’s job duties did not include primary work that requires knowledge of any advanced type in a field customarily acquired by prolonged, specialized, intellectual instruction or study.
- While Plaintiff would direct the work of other firefighters and rescue personnel at the scene of the calls on which she responded, Plaintiff also performed the work of fire extinguishment and rescue of accident victims.
- Defendant paid Plaintiff a flat salary regardless of the amount of hours Plaintiff worked.
- Defendant denied Plaintiff payment of overtime wage compensation required by the FLSA for any hours working in excess of 212 hours in any given twenty-eight (28) day work period, or in excess of 40 hours in any work week
- While Plaintiff’s schedule varied, she regularly worked in excess of 212 hours in any given twenty-eight (28) day work period, or in excess of 40 hours in any work week.
- Plaintiff also regularly performed work while not on shift and for which Defendant did not maintain accurate time records. Such work included, but was not limited to, attending a monthly Battalion Chiefs’ meeting which lasted approximately four hours on average.
- Other regular work performed by Plaintiff on days she was not scheduled to work and for which Defendant did not maintain accurate time records included attending meetings, answering phone calls, receiving and sending text messages and emails, serving on “on-call’ capacity, completing evaluations and reports, responding to emergencies, scheduling and other tasks.
- Defendant willfully and/or deliberately failed to pay Plaintiff her earned overtime wages for hours in violation of the FLSA.
- Defendant maintained records of hours that Plaintiff worked.
Booth’s complaint is not unusual. Allegations of FLSA misclassification by senior fire officers are almost commonplace today. Whether any high-ranking fire department officer [shift commander, battalion chief, deputy chief, etc.] can be properly classified as an overtime exempt executive employee depends on the specific facts involved. It is possible to have a battalion chief in one community properly classified as overtime exempt, while the battalion chief in a neighboring jurisdiction is entitled to FLSA overtime.
Booth is seeking compensation for unpaid wages, liquidated damages, and attorneys’ fees and costs. Here is a copy of the complaint.