A federal court in California has approved a global settlement of almost $150,000 to settle a lawsuit between Alameda County, California, and a former Emergency Medical Services Coordinator (EMS Coordinator). The settlement closely follows a 2021 lawsuit filed by Aram Bronston, an EMS Coordinator that was assigned as the county’s Regional Disaster Medical Health Specialist between November 2018 until his departure from the county in August 2020. Bronston alleged the county misclassified him as an overtime exempt “white-collar” employee in violation of both the FLSA and California state wage and hour law.
The settlement requires the county pay a total of $149,979 to settle Bronston’s claims. Bronston will receive $97,448 to settle all claims of unpaid overtime during his 21-months of employment with the county. Additionally, the county agreed to pay Bronston’s attorney’s fees in the amount of $52,531. Bronston initially claimed that he was owed over $135,000 in unpaid overtime and an equal amount in liquidated damages. The county continues to assert that Bronston was not misclassified, however offered the settlement to avoid the uncertainty and cost of protracted litigation.
According to court documents, Bronston worked in a “unique” county position “coordinating [the] regional medical and health responses in the event of an epidemic, natural disaster, power shutoff, or other situation requiring the coordination of medical and health needs.” The county classified Bronston as an overtime exempt administrative employee for the duration of his employment. Despite this classification, Bronston alleged that he did not meet all of the FLSA’s strict requirements necessary for the administrative overtime exemption.
Whether an employer can classify any employee as an overtime exempt “white-collar” employee depends on the specific facts. White-collar overtime exemptions are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Each situation is slightly different from the next. This lawsuit and eventual settlement can serve as a healthy reminder that employers bear the burden of proving that employees meet the specific requirements of any overtime exemption. In essence, the employee only needs to prove that they are an employee and that they were denied overtime. At that point the burden shifts to the employer to prove that a specific overtime exemption applies.
Here is a copy of Bronston’s complaint and the eventual settlement.