FLSA Suit Against Ambulance Provider Has Alabama Fire Department Concerned

An ambulance service providing EMS services to Decatur, Alabama is facing a federal lawsuit for refusing to pay its EMTs overtime, and that has local fire officials concerned.

Sixteen current and former employees of First Response Ambulance have filed suit against the company’s parent corporation, Healthcare Investment Group, Inc., alleging that the company and its managers are blatantly refusing to pay overtime to its employees for hours worked over 40 per week.

In amended pleadings filed last December, the plaintiffs also allege:

  • Defendants have intentionally failed and/or refused to pay the plaintiffs and other similarly situated hourly employees for overtime rates according to the provisions of the FLSA.
  • Defendants have intentionally and repeatedly misrepresented the true status of overtime compensation to its employees as well as their entitlement to overtime pay in order to avoid suspicion and inquiry by employees regarding their entitlement to monies owed to them.
  • As a result of the actions of Defendants in fraudulently concealing the true status of its employees when performing overtime pay under the FLSA, the applicable statute of limitations governing FLSA actions at 29 U.S.C. §255(a) is tolled for long as Defendants engaged or engages in the fraudulent and misleading conduct set forth above, which is a period of at least ten (10) years.
  • Defendants repeatedly told Plaintiffs and other similarly situated employees that “we don’t pay overtime” and that the company would not pay overtime.
  • Defendants have held employee meetings in which Defendants told employees, including Plaintiffs, that the employees would make more money if the company did not pay them overtime.
  • When Plaintiffs and other employees complained about not receiving overtime compensation, Defendants informed them that they were actually making more by being paid straight time because it kept the employees in a lower tax bracket.
  • Defendants were aware that such responses and the failure to pay employees overtime for all hours work over 40 was a violation of the law.
  • Defendants’ conduct and comments were willful and fraudulent.
  • Defendants have altered Plaintiffs and other similarly situated employees’ time records in order to reduce the number of hours in which Defendants must compensate the employee.
  • Defendants have told its employee Plaintiffs that they should withdraw from the case because the employees will owe Defendants $500,000 in attorneys’ fees.
  • Such statement is intimidating and is false. Defendants are aware that such comments and threats are false but nevertheless engaged in such behavior in an effort to intimidate employees and in order to reduce the number of individuals who join the suit.
  • Defendants are engaging a practice of lying, retaliating, and intimidating Plaintiffs and other similarly situated employees in order to prevent them from joining the case. Plaintiffs are aware of employees of who are interested in joining the case but have stated that based on Defendants’ threats and comments, are afraid to participate.
  • Since the filing of the lawsuit, Defendants have engaged in retaliatory conduct towards the Plaintiffs. Such conduct is willful and malicious.

The suit has raised the concern of Decatur Fire and Rescue, following its recent disclosure by First Response. In February, 2014 another EMS provider, Decatur Emergency Medical Service Inc., went bankrupt leaving the city dependent on First Response.

Decatur Fire and Rescue Deputy EMS Coordinator Michael Bowling was quoted by DecaturDaily.com as saying:

  • “It is not a fairy tale that ambulance services in the past and throughout the nation can have problems.”
  • “One day they open up in the morning and at midnight, they’re gone. I never want to see Decatur in that position.”
  • “You’re looking at things that are going to incur liability and affect employment.”
  • “If there’s a potential that within two years when a case goes to court you might not find yourself in the same financial situation, we need to know that. Our job is to take care of the citizens of Decatur.”

Here is a copy of the amended complaint: Parker v Healthcare Investment

Here is more on the story.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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