LA County Facing Quarantine-Related FLSA Suit

The Los Angeles County Fire Department is facing a class action lawsuit that seeks compensation for fire academy attendees who were quarantined in hotels while not in class during the COVID19 pandemic. The suit was brought by a John Doe plaintiff alleging an overtime violation under the Fair Labor Standards Act and breach of contract under state law.

The original complaint was filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court in March, and removed to US District Court for the Central District of California last week. The complaint is rather difficult to read, but appears to be worded in such a way as to allow additional firefighters who were forced to quarantine to join the class.

Quoting from the complaint:

  • From March to May 2020, Plaintiff JOHN DOE, individually, and as representative of the Class of employees of the Defendant [County of Los Angeles (COLA)], was required to physically stay on site at the hotel where Plaintiff JOHN DOE, individually, and as representative of the Class of employees of the Defendant COLA were required to lodge, during the duration of their quarantine.
  • During this time, Plaintiff JOHN DOE… received compensation for an 8- hour shift of employment, with minimal payments for overtime that in no way accounted for all hours worked.
  • Beginning in March of 2020, Plaintiff JOHN DOE, individually, and as representative of the Class of employees of the Defendant COLA were required to stay in hotels at the direction of senior staff and management due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • In doing so, claimant and others similarly situated were always under the control of Defendants and were to conduct themselves in accordance with the directives and limitations of what they could or could not do or go.
  • Plaintiff JOHN DOE… abided by these directives as it was presented and given to be as conditions of their employment.
  • Plaintiff JOHN DOE … [is] informed and believe[s], and thereon allege that management staff for those overseeing himself and others similarly situated made the decision to not compensate Plaintiff JOHN DOE, individually, and as representative of the Class of employees of the Defendant COLA for all hours worked.
  • Plaintiff JOHN DOE, individually, and as representative of the Class … were required to abide by the directives of management in that they were required to stay at a hotel for six out of the seven days in a week.
  • During those six days, Plaintiff JOHN DOE, individually, and as representative of the Class … were required to stay in their rooms or required to perform certain tasks, in certain ways at all times.
  • In short, Plaintiff JOHN DOE, individually, and as representative of the Class … assented to the control of management, they did so for the primary benefit of management and in doing so were under the control of management.
  • From the moment Plaintiff JOHN DOE…reported to the required academy training, every aspect of their lives was controlled and managed by Defendants for the period of time noted as Sunday at approximate 6 pm to dismissal on the following Saturday at approximately 5 pm.
  • For this time period attendance was integral, indispensable and required by Defendant COLA in order to complete the required academy training.
  • While in attendance for the required time as noted, Plaintiff JOHN DOE, individually, and as representative of the Class … were engaged to be confined and sequestered which eliminated their ability to enjoy personal pursuits due to the level of control by Defendants over every aspect of their lives.
  • This level of control was for the primary benefit of Defendants due to the COVID-19 pandemic: Defendant COLA made the choice to quarantine Plaintiff JOHN DOE… for the primary benefit to avoid infection of COVID-19 and allow for those passing the academy to be assigned to stations in county post-graduation.
  • Plaintiff JOHN DOE, individually, and as representative of the Class… were not paid for all hours to which they were under the assent, benefit and control of management – [of] the Los Angeles County Fire Department.
  • After quarantine was completed, and in July 2020, Plaintiff JOHN DOE… first became aware that management staff were being paid for 24-hour shifts while Plaintiff JOHN DOE, individually, and as representative of the Class… were not.
  • Plaintiff JOHN DOE, individually, and as representative of the Class of employees of the Defendant COLA were paid for approximately eight (8) hours a day during this time-period despite being required to abide by directives from senior staff and management for all hours of the day, i.e., twenty-four (24) hours.
  • Plaintiff JOHN DOE, individually, and as representative of the Class of employees of the Defendant COLA, based upon information and belief, the persons affected by this quarantine directive, affected, but certainly not limited to, Classes No. 153 – through No. 160. The total due to each class member, is depended on each unpaid worker’s rate of pay, at the time of the quarantine.
  • Plaintiff alleges that Defendants’ actions in failing to pay proper overtime pursuant to appliable laws was intentional and willful within the meaning of 29 U.S.C. § 255(a) wherein it states that a willful violation may be commenced within three years after the cause of action accrued.
  • Plaintiffs allege that Defendants’ failure was knowingly and willful because the hotel stay and sequestration requirements were held out and enforced as a condition of employment. Further, command staff was required to be on site at the hotels to monitor Plaintiffs, and those persons were compensated to do so.
  •  In turn, Defendants paid command staff to enforce terms of employment to which it did not compensate Plaintiffs for, all while knowing and in fact actually compensating command staff to enforce its requirements.

The allegation that the county’s failure to pay overtime was intentional is important to Doe’s claim. The normal statute of limitations for FLSA claims is two years, which would have tolled in July, 2022. The statute is extended to three years for intentional violations.

Here is a copy of the removal and the original complaint:

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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