Missouri Firefighter Terminated After Complaining About Pay Sues Alleging FLSA Retaliation

A Missouri firefighter who was terminated after complaining about the manner in which the fire department was paying its firefighters, is now suing the department for violating the Fair Labor Standards Act. Scott Jones filed suit against the Willard Fire Protection District in Greene County Circuit Court late last year.

This week, the fire protection district had the case removed to US District Court for the Western District of Missouri due to the federal claims. Jones, who retired from the Springfield Fire Department as a battalion chief after 25 years, took the firefighter position in Willard FPD in August of 2019. He was fired by the district’s board on December 29, 2019 “without explanation or warning.”

As explained in the complaint:

  • During the hiring process, the District told Mr.Jones that he would be paid $32,800 per year. After receiving his first two paychecks, however, Mr.Jones noticed that his wages did not accurately reflect this amount.
  • Specifically, the District did not correctly pay Mr. Jones for the half-time hours he worked.
  • Mr. Jones spoke with a supervisor, Captain Brett Fish.
  • Mr. Jones told Capt. Fish that there was an issue with Mr. Jones’s pay. Mr. Jones told Capt. Fish that Mr. Jones needed an explanation for the discrepancies Mr. Jones noticed.
  • Capt. Fish instructed Mr. Jones to speak with either the District’s secretary-Stephanie Shell-or Chief Ken Scott.
  • Mr. Jones first asked Ms. Shell about the pay discrepancies, but Ms. Shell directed Mr. Jones to speak with Chief Scott.
  • Mr. Jones then met with Chief Scott. Mr. Jones told the Chief that his paycheck did not add up; that he was not properly compensated for the hours he worked.
  • Chief Scott immediately became agitated. He told Mr. Jones “I don’t want to hear this crap.”
  • Chief Scott then attempted to explain that the District used the same pay formula as the Nixa Fire Protection District.
  • Mr. Jones did not think this explained the pay discrepancy he noticed and insisted a problem with the District’s calculations was likely.
  • Chief Scott was unwilling to discuss the issue any further, however, and indicated that Mr. Jones should leave the office.
  • Mr. Jones left, without the opportunity to ask any additional questions or explain how the District’s formula was wrong.
  • After Mr. Jones’ s meeting with Chief Scott, other District employees approached Mr. Jones regarding Mr. Jones’s pay dispute.
  • Capt. Fish asked Mr. Jones how the meeting with Chief Scott went. Mr. Jones told Capt. Fish and the other District employees “the Chief blew up about the pay thing.”
  • After this, other employees told Mr. Jones that they believed they were not being properly paid either. Some of these other employees expressed belief that the District was intentionally shorting employee pay but then providing yearly raises to try to prevent complaints.
  • After these conversations, Mr. Jones contacted a friend who worked for the Nixa Fire Protection District-the other district whose pay calculations Chief Scott claimed Defendant used.
  • Mr. Jones’s contact at the Nixa Fire Protection District confirmed that Defendant was not following the Nixa formula and that Defendant’s employees were not being correctly compensated for accrued half-time hours worked.
  • From August 2019 to December 2019, Mr. Jones performed his job in a satisfactory manner.
  • In November 2019, Mr. Jones received a positive performance evaluation and his supervisors told Mr. Jones he was doing well.
  • Mr. Jones never received any discipline or counseling from the District.
  • Mr. Jones was terminated without warning or explanation on December 29, 2019.
  • Chief Scott arrived at the station that day and asked to see Mr. Jones and Captain Stephen House, the acting captain on duty.
  • In the Captain’s office, Chief Scott told Mr. Jones that the District’s Board of Directors decided to terminate Mr. Jones.
  • Chief Scott said that Mr. Jones had a strong work ethic and worked hard, but that the Board “heard some things.”
  • Chief Scott told Mr. Jones that the Board was trying to fix some problems and that the District had decided to terminate Mr. Jones before the completion of his probationary period.
  • The District has a progressive discipline policy, but neither this nor any other disciplinary options were presented to Mr. Jones.

The complaint includes three counts: unpaid wages under the FLSA, FLSA retaliation, and a whistleblower claim under Missouri state law (§ 105.055.7, RSMo). Here is a cop of the removal notice together with the original complaint:

By the way – our next FLSA for Fire Department’s conference is May 11-14, 2021. Here is the link for more details.

Have you been through the FLSA for Fire Departments program in the past three years? We have a special deal for you. Registered attendees from the past three years are eligible to re-attend the May 11-14, 2021 conference for just $99. Email me for details at curtvarone@gmail.com.

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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