Alabama Firefighters Claim City Retaliated Against Them For Filing FLSA Suit

A lawsuit filed by 91 Alabama firefighters who claimed the City of Gadsden was violating the Fair Labor Standards Act, has been amended to accuse the city of retaliating against them for having brought the suit. The firefighters filed their original suit in federal court back in May alleging the city miscalculated their regular rate, resulting in overtime underpayments.

According to an amended complaint filed last week, city officials made a number of threats and disciplined several members in retaliation for the filing of the lawsuit. The firefighters claim that city officials informed them they would not receive a pay raise because of the lawsuit, and the city would eliminate double-time for working overtime on Sundays, plus reduce their sick leave accrual.

The amended complaint claims the city’s actions violate the anti-retaliation provisions of the FLSA, but also go further violating the First and Fourteenth Amendment Rights of the firefighters. Quoting from the Amended Complaint:

  • Section 215(a)(3) of the FLSA, 29 U.S.C. § 215(a)(3), provides that it is unlawful to discharge or in any other manner discriminate against any employee because such employee has caused to be instituted any proceeding under the Fair Labor Standards Act, or has testified in any such proceeding.
  • Under section 215(a)(3), it is unlawful for “any person,” including individuals and employers, to institute a disciplinary proceeding against an FLSA plaintiff in retaliation for his participation and/or testimony in an FLSA lawsuit and/or for the purposes of intimidating him and/or coercing him to alter his testimony.
  • Defendants actions would have dissuaded any reasonable worker from making or supporting an FLSA claim.
  • Here, Plaintiffs seek to correct the system-wide policy of a municipal agency that deprives its employees of their lawful compensation for overtime worked. Moreover, because the employees in question constitute an integral part of the Fire Department, failure to comply with the FLSA directly impacts the ability of Defendant City to maintain a fire department necessary for the public order. Consequently, Plaintiffs’ FLSA lawsuit touches upon a matter of public concern.
  • The right of Plaintiffs to provide support to this lawsuit alleging violations of the FLSA is also protected by the guarantee of freedom of speech in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. Their participation in this judicial proceeding is inherently of public concern.
  • The First Amendment also protects the rights of public employees to speak as private citizens on matters of public concern, as well as to associate with unions, such as Local 454.
  • Defendant City’s discipline of Plaintiffs … violated their rights under the First and Fourteenth Amendments to associate with and provide support to Local 454.

Here is a copy of the Amended Complaint filed August 11, 2022.

Here is the original complaint.

Don’t forget our upcoming FLSA programs:

FLSA Bootcamp for Volunteer and Combination Fire Departments  August 31, 2022  1:00 PM Eastern

Advanced FLSA: Calculating Regular Rate for Firefighters and other First Responders

September 15, 2022 – 1:00PM Eastern

Advanced FLSA: Executive Exemption: Fire Officers and Overtime October 5, 2022 1:00 PM Eastern

Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) for Fire Departments December 6, 8, 13 and 15, 2022

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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