RI Fire District Sued For Overtime Violations

A Rhode Island firefighter has filed a class action lawsuit alleging that a local fire district violated the overtime requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act, and after being found to be in violation by the US Department of Labor, persisted in refusing to pay back wages owed. James Almagno filed suit today in US District Court for the District of Rhode Island naming the Central Coventry Fire District.

Almagno alleges that the district failed to pay overtime to personnel when they worked in excess of 212 hours in 28 days, improperly compensated them for hours during which they performed “collateral duties”, and failed to include acting out of rank pay in the regular rate their overtime was based upon.

According to the complaint:

  • In or about February, 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) began investigating the District for alleged violations of the FLSA.
  • Thereafter, the Secretary of Labor and the District, by and through its Manager, Gayle Corrigan, entered in a statute of limitations tolling agreement (“Tolling Agreement”).
  • Pursuant to the Tolling Agreement, the Secretary agree to withhold immediate filing of legal proceedings under the FLSA to allow time for the Secretary and District to discuss and attempt to resolve the matter.
  • In exchange, the District agreed that the statute of limitations will be tolled beginning on February 24, 2018. “Any legal or equitable proceedings that may be brought against the Employer(s) as a result of the Secretary’s findings from this investigation or by affected employees will be deemed to have been filed on the Tolling Date.”
  • During the period 2018 through 2019, the DOL, by and through its investigator, conducted an extensive review of the District’s payroll records and interviewed various witnesses.
  • The DOL investigation concluded that the District violated several provisions of the FLSA…
  • The DOL investigation concluded that for the period April 2, 2016 through March 24, 2018, the District owed back wages to Plaintiffs totaling $139,484.47.
  • The DOL investigation concluded that, as of May 6, 2019, the District was continuing to compensate employees in violation of the FLSA.
  • On May 6, 2019, the DOL Investigator “confirmed Corrigan’s explanation of how firefighters are currently being paid and” informed the District’s Attorney, David D’Agostino, “that the method of payment is still not in compliance with the FLSA.”
  • Thereafter, the District informed the DOL Investigator that it would not be paying the back wages owed.
  • Defendant has violated and continues to violate the FLSA by failing and refusing in a willful and intentional manner to pay Plaintiffs and other similarly situated employees all overtime compensation due them under the FLSA and its implementing regulations.

The normal standard statute of limitations for FLSA suits is two years from the date the suit is filed. The timeframe can be extended to three years when an employer acts in bad faith. Ordinarily, that would put Almagno’s lookback period to October 15, 2018, or perhaps October 15, 2017.

However, by agreement of the parties, the statute of limitations was tolled on February 24, 2018, meaning that the lookback period extends back to February 24, 2016, or perhaps even February 24, 2015. That puts the district’s taxpayers at risk for over five years of damages in the event the US DOL was correct in its investigation.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

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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