Court Orders Enforcement of FLSA Settlement Despite Objection by Firefighters’ Attorneys

What began as a typical lawsuit over breach of contract and the inclusion of longevity in a couple dozen Mississippi firefighter’s regular rate of pay in late 2022, ended in a rather unusual court ruling this past week. A federal magistrate Judge has ordered the enforcement of a settlement agreement negotiated between the City of Biloxi, Mississippi and thirty-five city firefighters over the objections of the firefighters’ attorneys.

The firefighters claimed that settlement agreement [which was drafted by the city’s attorneys and subsequently approved by the firefighters’ attorneys] was vague and did not clearly articulate the party’s intentions. This debate centered around whether overdue longevity payments [which were required by city Ordinance adopted years ago] would be paid to the firefighters retroactively for all twelve months in 2023, or merely “going forward” from October 1, 2023. The firefighters argued that the intent of the parties’ negotiations was to provide the longevity retroactively for the entire year, while the city argued that the intent was to provide longevity pay from October “going forward.” Since the longevity pay would need to be included in the firefighter’s regular rate, limiting the longevity pay to only a couple of months significantly reduced the amount of potential back wages and damages owed to the firefighters.

As a result of this confusion, the firefighters wanted scrap the settlement and continue the litigation. The city countered by arguing that once the city council and mayor approved the settlement it was binding. In the end the court sided with the city. The impact of this decision if evident by the monetary terms of the settlement. The settlement requires the city to pay the firefighters a lump sum payment of $250 each and a total of $15,000 to the firefighter’s attorneys. Additionally, the city agrees to reinstate longevity pay “going forward” as required in a city ordinance enacted over a decade ago. However, the city only agreed to continue paying longevity pay until June 30, 2025. The city could possibly rescind or modify the longevity ordinance after that date. Finally, the settlement also requires the city to conduct a workshop with union and city officials within ninety days of this settlement “in an effort to determine whether the City will acknowledge the union.”

Do you have questions on properly calculating a firefighter’s regular rate of pay? Consider joining us next week in lovely Georgetown, TX for the first post-pandemic in-person FLSA for Fire Departments seminar.

Here are copies of the Judge’s order, the settlement agreement, and the firefighter’s original complaint from December 2022.

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