FL Fire Protection District Faces Second FLSA Lawsuit in as Many Years

The Upper Captiva Fire Protection and Rescue Service District (district) is facing its second FLSA misclassification lawsuit from a former chief officer since 2021. The district provides fire and EMS services on the tiny island of North Captiva on Florida’s gulf coast. The island of North Captiva is located a few miles northwest of Ft. Meyers Beach and is only accessible by boat. The island is home to only a few hundred residents. According to the district’s website there was a total of 186 calls for service in 2022.

The most recent FLSA lawsuit was filed against the district on May 31, 2023 in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Florida, by former Fire Chief Jason Martin. According to Martin, the District improperly classified him as an overtime exempt employee in violation of the FLSA. For more on Martin’s lawsuit, including a copy of the complaint from Curt Varone’s Fire Law Blog, click here.

However, this is not the first time the district has faced an FLSA misclassification lawsuit from a high-ranking fire officer. In late 2021, Assistant Chief Craig Denison filed a very similar lawsuit. According to Denison’s complaint, he regularly worked shifts of 48 hours on duty followed by 48 hours off duty. Denison alleged that his primary duty was acting as a first-responder and not a high-level executive fire officer. On April 25, 2022, Denison and the district settled that lawsuit for “full payment of [Denison’s] unpaid overtime wages plus liquidated damages, without compromise.” Additionally, the district agreed to pay Denison’s legal fees, which is common in almost all FLSA litigation.

Both lawsuits illustrate the importance of understanding the many different facets of the FLSA’s executive exemption for fire service leaders and those responsible for paying public safety professionals. Why are some chief officers overtime exempt while others are eligible for FLSA overtime? Department of Labor regulations tell us that a fire officer’s rank or pay level doesn’t automatically make that officer overtime exempt. Whether any fire officer can be properly classified as an overtime exempt employee requires a very careful examination of the facts. In particular, the officer’s primary duty and the amount and the way the officer is paid must be examined. This examination must be made on a case-by-case basis.  

Do you have questions about the FLSA’s executive exemption and fire officers [and other public safety professionals]? If yes, please join us at 1PM EST on Thursday June 15, 2023, for the live webinar: Advanced FLSA: Executive Exemption – Fire Officers and Overtime.

Here is a copy of Denison’s complaint from 2021 and the eventual settlement order from 2022.

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