MO Firefighter’s FLSA Regular Rate Lawsuit Expands to Include More Plaintiffs

A federal judge has ruled that an FLSA lawsuit filed by a lone former Independence, Missouri firefighter can move forward as a collective action. A collective action under the FLSA is a mechanism that allows similarly situated current and former employees the ability to band together in an FLSA lawsuit against their current or former employer. A collective action is somewhat similar to a “class-action”. As a result of this ruling, numerous other “similarly situated individuals” [a.k.a. other current and former Independence firefighters] are now able to join in on the lawsuit.

This lawsuit was originally filed in Missouri state court in December 2022; however, it was later moved to federal court by the city in January 2023. The crux of the firefighters’ claims is that City of Independence is improperly paying its firefighters in violation of both the FLSA and the Missouri Wage and Hour Laws. Specifically, that firefighters allege the city does not include percentage-based wage increases they receive for various certifications [including paramedic and hazardous materials technician] and for working “out-of-position” in their regular rate of pay. This in-turn results in the firefighters’ overtime rate being less than what is required by law.

Quoting from the complaint:

  • The Plaintiffs are employed by the City and that employment relationship is governed by the CBA, which sets forth among other things, provisions concerning wages and overtime.
  • The CBA further provides an incentive program for employees obtaining various certifications related to fire suppression. Under the program, certified firefighters are guaranteed additional pay of two to five percent (2-5%) above what his/her salary would otherwise be, to wit:
  • Paramedic: Each fully qualified Paramedic shall be paid an additional 5% of their base compensation during the period of this agreement. This amount will be paid on a biweekly basis. An individual may elect to cease participation in the active program at which time the 5% differential shall cease. Should that individual maintain the appropriate certification and serve as a paramedic on a shift due to the absence of an active paramedic, the individual shall receive 5% of base compensation for any such shift.
  • Hazardous Materials Technician: Each Hazardous Materials Technician permanently assigned at the designated Haz Mat Station will be paid an additional 4% of base pay during the period assigned. Hazardous Materials Technicians volunteering for the program, but not permanently assigned will be paid an additional 2% of base pay provided that not more than twenty (20) individuals can receive the additional pay and provided further that not more than eight shall be on any one shift.
  • The City violated Missouri Wage and Hour law and the FLSA by failing to pay its firefighters for work performed in excess of 204 hours per 27-day work period, at a rate of at least one and one-half times the regular rate, considering all remuneration such as certification pay; rather, the City calculated these employees’ overtime at a lower rate resulting in devaluation of their certification percentages.

It is not surprising that the main allegation contained in the firefighter’s complaint is that the city is improperly calculating the firefighter’s regular rate of pay. Proper calculation of the regular rate has been referred to as the “linchpin” of the FLSA’s overtime requirement. Allegations of regular rate violations continue to be the most likely reason a fire department could face an FLSA lawsuit today. The FLSA requires that all “remuneration” paid to an employee included in that employee’s regular rate. This includes various wage augments or incentives that are often paid to firefighters in addition to their base hourly wages. We will continue to follow this case as it progresses.

Do you have questions about how to properly calculate a firefighter’s regular rate from a salary? What wage augments can be rightfully excluded from that regular rate? How to incorporate lump sum wage augments into the regular rate? Please join us on March 20, 2024, for the FLSA Advances Webinar Series “Calculating Regular Rate for Firefighters and other First Responders.” We will answer all of those questions and much, much more. Click here for more information.

Here is a copy of the latest ruling and the original complaint from the Independence, MO FLSA suit.

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