The City of San Diego has agreed to pay 7 helicopter rescue medics $442,000 in back wages to end a year-long lawsuit over unpaid overtime, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.
San Diego Settles Copter Medic Overtime Lawsuits
The federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which governs the nation’s major wage regulations, entitles the vast majority of American workers to overtime pay. According to federal law, overtime wages must be paid for any and all hours worked over 40 in a single workweek (7 consecutive 24-hour periods).
The wage should be paid at 1.5-times a worker’s regular rate, which could include weekly bonuses and commissions, since overtime wages are calculated on a weekly basis (even for employees who are paid on a bi-weekly or monthly basis).
The FLSA’s Fire Suppression Exemption
There are, of course, multiple exceptions to this rule. Many workers in America aren’t entitled to overtime pay, either because they make too much money on salary or because they do specific sorts of work. Helicopter paramedics used to be among these workers, people who aren’t entitled to overtime.
The Fair Labor Standards Act contains an exemption that covers state and local employees who are engaged in fire suppression, including firefighters, paramedics, EMS and ambulance personnel.
Ninth Circuit Rules On Air Paramedic Overtime
For years, helicopter rescue medics fell into this category. The exemption says that helicopter medics should be paid overtime only after working more than 212 hours over the course of 28 days. That’s a far higher bar than 40 hours in a single week, but in 2014, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned the conventional wisdom, since helicopter medics don’t actually put out fires. Today, air paramedics are entitled to normal overtime wages for their extra hours.
Lawsuits: San Diego Failed To Pay Correct Overtime For 3 Years
To avoid that extra expense, San Diego reduced hours, cutting a helicopter medic’s average workweek from 56 to 40 hours, putting most of the medics’ weeks underneath the overtime threshold.
That’s fine, but the change only went into effect in early 2017. The rules on helicopter medic overtime changed in 2014. So what happened during the 3 intervening years? In their lawsuit, seven of San Diego’s air paramedics argued that, despite the 2014 change in our understanding of overtime regulations, they weren’t paid correctly for their extra hours until 2017.
San Diego fought the lawsuit at first. Since all firefighters, paramedics and helicopter air medics are covered by the same labor contract, the City said, it was fine for them to require the same 56-hour weeks of the air paramedics. Apparently, that argument couldn’t carry the load, because San Diego soon decided to settle the cases.
Medics Get $442,000 Payout
Each of the 7 medics will receive a cash payout in wages that will count toward their pensions. The total amount of compensation comes to $442,000, with medic Scott Pearson receiving the highest award at $135,000. Pearson filed his suit as an individual wage and hour suit; the remaining 6 medics filed a collective action together. The average hourly wage for an air paramedic in San Diego is north of $41.