Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Ninth Circuit Rules Fire Department Dispatchers and Aeromedical Technicians Are Entitled to Standard Overtime Pay Under FLSA

On March 18, 2014, the Ninth Circuit issued an opinion in Haro v. City of Los Angeles. The Ninth Circuit found standard overtime rules under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) apply to fire department dispatchers and aeromedical technicians. This case distinguishes fire department dispatchers and aeromedical technicians from firefighters in calculating overtime.

Under the FLSA, employees who work more than 40 hours in a workweek are entitled to overtime pay. However, Section 207(k) exempts certain job classifications from this general rule. Section 207(k) requires certain employees, such as firefighters, to work a total of 212 hours in a 28-day period before earning overtime pay. In this case, the City of Los Angeles classified dispatchers and aeromedical technicians as employees “engaged in fire protection.” Classifying dispatchers and aeromedical technicians as employees “engaged in fire protection” subjected them to the same overtime rules as firefighters.

L.A. City dispatchers and aeromedical technicians filed suit. They argued that they are not actively engaged in fire protection as defined by the FLSA, and should receive standard overtime pay. The City argued because dispatchers and aeromedical technicians contribute in a direct and vital manner to the fire department’s suppression of fires, Section 207(k) applies.

Although dispatchers and aeromedical technicians occupy a vital role in fighting fires, they are not employees “engaged in fire protection” as defined by the FLSA. The Court pointed out dispatchers do not actively engage in fire suppression. Rather, dispatchers send firefighters to the scene to suppress the fire. Similarly, the Section 207(k) exemption does not apply to aeromedical technicians. Their duties include medical support, setting up equipment, loading hoses and fittings onto helicopters, filling helicopters with water, and establishing secure landing sites. These are not duties of an employee “engaged in fire protection.” Since dispatchers and aeromedical technicians are not exempt under the FLSA, they were awarded backpay for unpaid overtime.

The City has participated in much FLSA litigation in recent years. The litigation caused the City to reconsider its pay practices for many employees, but the City never investigated its pay practices for dispatchers and aeromedical technicians. The Court concluded the City willfully violated the FLSA by failing to investigate whether dispatchers and aeromedical technicians were exempt under Section 207(k).