Tuesday, June 10, 2008, 8:35 AM

Third Circuit Revives Paramedics Overtime Claims

On Wednesday, May 28, 2008, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit held that Philadelphia Fire Service Paramedics ("FSPs") do not possess "legal authority and responsibility for fire suppression activities" sufficient to exempt them from the FLSA's time-and-a-half payment requirement. The decision in Lawrence v. City of Philadelphia, which reversed a September 29, 2006, summary judgment entered in favor of the City of Philadelphia by the District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, ended a five-year feud between approximately 300 FSPs and the City.

The dispute began in July, 2003, when several FSPs filed suit against the City alleging that it had violated §207(a) of the FLSA by failing to compensate them time-and-a-half for those hours worked over 40. The City claimed that the FSPs were exempt from the mandatory payment requirement because they were engaged in "fire protection activities" and according to §207(k) of the FLSA, public agencies are exempt from paying employees who are engaged in such activities the higher overtime rate. The FSPs argued to the contrary, pointing to their Mission Statement and their official job description, neither of which refer to any fire protection or suppression role.

Despite attending the City's Fire Academy and receiving instruction in fire suppression, hazardous-materials, and emergency fire protocols, the Third Circuit held that the FSPs do not satisfy §203(y)'s definition of "fire protection activities." Writing for the majority, Judge Solviter stated that, "An FSP's assistance in moving hose line in an emergency situation does not make the FSP legally responsible for fire suppression. Such minor assistance is not the 'role' or required duty of an FSP and therefore does not fall within the meaning of the term 'responsibility'."

The court's recent decision highlights two important aspects of the FLSA. First, it demonstrates how courts frequently interpret the Act broadly and in favor of protecting employees. Second, it serves as a reminder that not all employees are subject to FLSA protections, some are exempt because of the nature of their profession.


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