Court Concludes Overtime Exemption for Company Officers Must Go To Jury

The US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio has ruled that a jury must decide whether company officers in the Eaton Fire Department are entitled to, or exempt from, overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The suit was filed in 2019 by three captains and a lieutenant who claimed they were improperly classified as exempt executives, and thus denied overtime compensation for extra hours worked beyond 212 in 28 days. The city countered that because their primary duty is managerial, they were properly classified as exempt.

Both sides asked the court to rule in their favor without a trial based upon the law. As an initial matter, the court acknowledged the impact of a 2018 ruling by the US Supreme Court in Encino Motorcars, LLC v. Navarro, 138 S. Ct. 1134, 1142 (2018). That decision reversed decades of established FLSA case law that held that exemptions such as the executive exemption were to be “narrowly construed against the employers seeking to assert them.” After Encino Motorcars, courts are to apply a “fair reading” to the exemptions. The result: it is now easier for fire departments to make their case that certain officers are exempt executives.

The court went on to discuss a factual dispute between the parties over the exact duties that the officers performed, and concluded:

  • Where, as here, the parties present conflicting evidence regarding the employees’ primary job duties, “‘it must be left to a trier of fact to weigh the credibility’ of the parties’ contradictory ‘characterizations of the [employees’] day-to-day duties’…. All of these fact disputes fall within the jury’s domain.”

The case is schedule for a jury trial on June 7, 2021. Here is a copy of the ruling:

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. Catch up on the inevitable FLSA changes like those discussed in this case!!! 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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