Fairfax County Settles FLSA Suit With Fire Captains for $7.85 Million

After losing at the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals, Fairfax County has opted to cut its losses and settle a Fair Labor Standards Act lawsuit with 174 fire captains for $7.85 million.

The county had long considered the captains to be white-collar executive employees who are exempt from eligibility for overtime. Back in 2014, a group of captains filed suit claiming they were improperly classified as exempt. The district court agreed with the county that the captains were executives, but on appeal the 4th Circuit reversed.

In a ruling issued last June, the 4th Circuit said:

  • When an emergency call comes in, it takes priority, and the Captains do not have discretion to decline to respond.
  • [U]nlike their superiors, Captains are part of the core group of firefighters who are required to respond to a typical call; an engine cannot leave the station without its Captain on board.
  • In this way, the Captains are quite unlike the “high-level” fire officials… with the “discretion to determine whether and where their assistance is needed.”
  • [W]here the record evidence will not allow an employer to meet its heavy burden of showing, by clear and convincing evidence, that an exemption applies, then summary judgment is appropriate.
  • On the record here, no reasonable jury could find that the County has shown by clear and convincing evidence that the Captains’ “primary duty” is management or management-related. The Captains therefore are entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

Rather than appealing the ruling to the US Supreme Court, the county began paying the captains overtime in September. They also reached a settlement with the captains totaling $7.85 million, with $1.4 million of that being designated as attorneys fees.

More on the story.

Here is a copy of the 4th Circuit’s ruling: morrison-v-fairfax

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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