Court Approves $240k FLSA Settlement For 3 California Battalion Chiefs

The settlement of an overtime lawsuit brought by three battalion chiefs with the Coronado Fire Department, has been approved by the US District Court for the Southern District of California. The suit was filed last April by BC Perry Peake as a class action alleging the city improperly classified BCs as exempt executives.

Peake claimed that the BCs were first responders, and under the First Responder Regulations should be considered hourly employees, eligible for overtime under the Fair Labor Standards Act. Two other BCs later joined Peake’s suit as plaintiffs. The city agreed to pay the three BCs $196,000 in damages, and $45,000 in attorneys fees.

Lawsuits brought under the FLSA can only be settled with court approval. As explained in the decision:

  • The FLSA was enacted to protect covered workers from substandard wages and oppressive working hours.
  • “The FLSA places strict limits on an employee’s ability to waive claims for unpaid wages or overtime… for fear that employers may coerce employees into settlement and waiver.”
  • FLSA claims for unpaid wages “may only be waived or otherwise settled if the settlement is supervised by the Secretary of Labor or approved by a district court.”
  • In reviewing a FLSA settlement, a district court must determine whether the settlement represents a “fair and reasonable resolution of a bona fide dispute.”

The ruling walks through each of the sub-issues associated with the court-approval process, including:

  • Ensuring a bona fide dispute exists;
  • Ensuring the proposed settlement is a fair and reasonable resolution by specifically considering:
  1. Plaintiff’s Range of Possible Recoveries
  2. Stage of Proceedings and Amount of Discovery Completed
  3. Seriousness of Litigation Risk
  4. Scope of Release Provision in the Settlement Agreement
  5. Experience of Counsel
  6. Possibility of Fraud or Collusion
  • Determining the reasonableness of the proposed attorney’s fees, including:
  1. Reasonable Hourly Rate
  2. Reasonable Hours Expended
  3. Lodestar Figure

The court concluded a genuine dispute existed, the settlement was fair and reasonable, and the attorneys fees were reasonable. Here is a copy of the decision:

Our next FLSA for Fire Departments program is February 15-18, 2022. Details/Registration.

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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