Former Tennessee Firefighter Sues Under FLSA

A Tennessee firefighter who resigned earlier this month has filed a class action lawsuit under the Fair Labor Standards Act claiming he and his colleagues were being improperly compensated.

Seth Stafford filed suit against the City of Mt. Juliet on September 22, 2016 alleging the city “failed to pay its employee firefighters for all time worked, including failing to pay such employees the overtime wages they are owed under the law.” He resigned from the department on September 9, 2016.

Stafford was hired by the department in 2014. Mt. Juliet started its fire department in 2013. Prior to that fire protection was provided by the county.

According to the complaint:

  • When Plaintiff was originally hired in 2014, a received a salary type payment without any distinction or reference to overtime hours.
  • During his employment in 2015, Plaintiff understood that he would be receiving overtime pay for hours worked over 212 hours a month.
  • However, until March of 2016, Plaintiff was not paid for all hours worked over 212 hours a month but rather was paid a figure based upon an average of all hours worked by the firefighters in the team.
  • Prior to March of 2016, Plaintiff was never paid time and a half for all hours worked over 212 in a 28 day work period.
  • Prior to March of 2016, The Defendant regularly required the Plaintiff and similarly situated employees to work in excess of 212 hours a month without being paid overtime wages of one and a half times the hourly rate.
  • After March, 2016, Plaintiff was advised that he would start receiving time and a half pay for hours worked over 212 in a 28 day period and he did start receiving overtime payment details on his check.
  • At all times, Defendant required Plaintiff and similarly situated firefighters to submit documentation to Defendant purporting to record the hours they have worked.
  • Prior to March 2016, the Defendant paid the Plaintiff and all other similarly situated firefighters based on an averaged their hours worked instead of their individual actual hours worked.
  • As a result of this common policy or practice, Defendant failed to pay Plaintiff and similarly situated firefighters the appropriate overtime pay. This common policy or practice of averaging hours worked violates the FLSA, as well as the Tennessee common law claims asserted here.

The Tennessean reported that Stafford’s attorney, Nina H. Parsley claims Stafford damages exceed $3,000. However, given that the suit is filed as a class action, other firefighters are entitled to join the lawsuit. Assuming Stafford and the firefighters prevail, they will be entitled to double damages plus attorneys fees. It is not uncommon in smaller cases like this for the attorneys fees to greatly exceed the damages.

Here is a copy of the complaint: Stafford-v-Mt-Juliet

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.

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