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Iraq and Afghanistan Firefighters File Suit for Over $100M

On Tuesday, twenty-eight US firefighters filed a class action lawsuit against Wackenhut Services International, Kellog-Brown & Root, LLC (KBR) and Halliburton Corp, claiming fraud, conspiracy, and breach of contract arising out of their work in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The firefighters allege they were deceived into going overseas, not paid the wages and benefits they were promised, and threatened when they tried to complain. The 30 page complaint was filed in Federal District Court in Washington, DC.

The suit alleges that some 2,000 firefighters were wrongfully deprived of “lawful wages required by government contracts – including in-country pay, danger pay, on-call pay, up-lift pay, overtime, and other benefits and compensation”. The suit also alleges that the defendants billed the US government for hours worked by the firefighters for which they were never paid.

According to the complaint, firefighters were required to be on duty 24/7, but were only paid for 12 hours a day. They claim they were told there would be two shifts assigned each day, but when they arrived there was only one shift. The defendants required them to remain at work on-call with no pay for the other 12 hours.

The named plaintiffs were among those who opted out of a proposed arbitration settlement that was negotiated with the defendants back in 2010. The proposed settlement would have granted $1,500 to each firefighter and paid the attorneys who brought the claim $1,000,000. The plaintiffs opted out because their average lost overtime claims exceeded $40,000, exclusive of interests, costs, civil penalties, and attorneys fees – all of which are compensable under the FLSA.

The plaintiffs are seeking to recover compensable damages, statutory damages and penalties, plus over $100,000,000 in punitive damages. While it is a tough read, the complaint is pretty interesting.

Here is the complaint. Hill v Wackenhut

More on the story.

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Comments - Add Yours

  • John

    My friends who served in those positions all made similar complaints. No doubt in my mind the companies involved are guilty of every accusation there. My only issue with the suit is that those guys still made an insane amount of money for what they were doing, and many stayed for additional years knowing full well the shenanigans that were going on.

  • http://firelawblog.com Curt Varone

    Thanks John

    Interesting perspective – if you know you are being cheated and you remain in that situation, how can you later complain about it… Not sure that is an entire defense though. If the companies agreed to pay their firefighters A, B and C, and only gave them A – even though A may be alot there is still a breach of contract… and by the way, if the companies fraudulently charged us taxpayers for A, B and C – by claiming they had to pay their employees for A, B and C – I’m not sure I’d let them off the hook for B and C.

    • Jim Atkins

      Curt,

      I was there 5 years as an officer (eventually a senior officer) though I was not involved in the corporate scheme any further than trying to provide a good service to our soldiers and Marines over there. A lot of us were not aware of the “being cheated” part while there and some of us took longer than others to see through the corporate cash scheme.

      I will try to explain the nature of the problem, though this is a very convoluted case and it may be hard to understand since a lot of what is alleged can only be proved by the “Company” revealing its contract with the government (which it refuses to do). The contract was a “cost-plus” contract so the “company” bid out the contract to the Army (taxpayer) stating they would provide firefighting services covering 24 hours a day 7 days aweek for the duration of the contract. They turned around and hired firefighters and sent them to work 16 hours a day pay stating that they were “on call” at night during the other 8 hours. The “company” would then (allegedly) pocket the remaining 8 hours per firefighter as they were charging the government at that rate.

      The “on call” featured a radio that you had to respond to and you had to be available. If you awoke and were called in, the pay was dependant on how long you stayed out. Answering a false alarm could result in a no pay if the alarm was handled in 7 minutes (from alarm to clear and returning) or .25 hours if less than 15 minutes or the other 8 hours if you had something working. Sound good and fair until we find out that that the “Company” may have charged the government “extra” (remember cost plus) when those guys had to respond at night saying to the taxpayer that “those guys were off duty” even though the government was already paying for the 24 hour period.

      Part of the problem is that the contract was not a salaried contract but an hourly contract and was nebulous about on call time. You signed a document saying X dollars per hour and it was assumed that you would get the hours worked and that there would be some sort of shift or platoon system like every other fire department in the universe. At the in processing center in a certain Texas town, they did not discuss the contract clearly and you did not in fact sign the initial one until you had already quit your previous job and were ready to get on the plane to the ME.

      The question of the case is ‘If you are in the station, with a radio to your ear and had to respond to a call would that constitute being on duty’? If so, then the lawsuit alledges that ALL the firefighters would be due back pay for all the hours they were still on duty and did not get paid for (that the taxpayer had contracted and already paid for). A sidebar would be that if the company had sold the services to government for 24 hours and that’s what the government was paying for and they assumed the firefighters were getting that, ‘should the “company” pay that to the employees as the governement agreed’? Was it a requirement that the “company” pay those hours?

      A final interesting note is that there was no shifts, no battalions, no platoons-so when you got there, unless your station was overstaffed, it was day on, stay on–to which the company also charged extra. I won’t even get into the pay per warm body feature that was involved. A lot of this stuff was not well known and many of us went over there with the nieve notion to serve the troops and help out with the mission.

      There of course were other issues like Hazardous duty pay (only paid 40 hours for that even though at 41 hours the hazard did not magically disappear) but I won’t get in to that either though that is included in the lawsuit.

      As for “for additional years knowing full well the shenanigans that were going on” statement, only a few knew about the “alleged” schemes in thier full depth. Honestly, would you give up a job making 100K on suspicion? Even at this point a lot of the allegedly I stated above need to be worked out. As I mentioned, the “Compnay” has yet to reveal what it was paid, what it charged and what thier contract was with the Army. A previous lawsuit did not fair well and seemed to fall apart at discovery though the lawyers made out well.

      A lot of the firefighters that went to those places did good solid work (and still do though for different companies). Some of those people are named on this lawsuit. As far as jobs go, if you could deal with the whole austere locations, toxic environments, crazy people, dangerous roads, insane travel, loneliness from being on the other side of the planet from your famliy and the general lunacy of the situation over there-it was not a bad job. That does not give the company a right to abuse its employees some of which who were loyal and good to the customer (Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, other civilians and contractors). For those that thought it was a cake walk for 100 grand, generally it was not. We lost 3 people over there (though one was from natural causes), not including many injured, and who knows what other issues will eventually crop up. I have not personally participated in the lawsuits but they do pose valid legal questions and if the company did abuse the taxpayers and the employees, they should be held absolutely accountable. If not, then the whole thing will pass into history (like most of the unfortunate escapade Iraq turned out to be). This is why we have lawsuits such as this. The truth will come out.

      • http://firelawblog.com Curt Varone

        Thanks Jim

        The media does tend to twist stories to add hype and drama – and one way they do that is to make people out to be villians. Some have tried to make the company out to be a villian, and some have tried to make the firefighters out to be villians. Many times there are good people on both sides of a case, its just that mistakes are made in interpreting the law. Hopefully it will all get sorted out – and if there are true villians versus media created villians) – that will be evident.

        A cakewalk??? IMHO just deploying to either Iraq or Afghanistan makes someone a hero. Even if they saw no fires or emergencies!!! If they were promised A, B and C then they deserve A, B and C even if it is alot.

  • ukfbbuff

    It’ll be interesting to see how this Lawsuit goes.

    I’m for the FF’s and against the “Quick Buck” Companies Involved.