LA County Prevails in Quarantine-Related Overtime Claim

An FLSA-overtime lawsuit brought against Los Angeles County by firefighter-trainees who were required to quarantine at a hotel while attending the fire academy during the COVID lockdown, has been dismissed. The suit claimed that the firefighter-trainees were entitled to compensation for all of the hours they under county control, including the hours they were required to quarantine at the hotel.

When the case was originally filed in 2023, it was brought by a John Doe plaintiff in Los Angeles County Superior court. It was removed to the US District Court for the Central District of California, and the case name has since become Bryan Hubbard et al v. Los Angeles County et al. Hubbard was successful in getting a class of firefighter-trainees certified, resulting in 166 additional plaintiffs.

The court never reached the merits of whether the firefighter-trainees were entitled to compensation for the quarantine-time. Rather, Judge Percy Anderson concluded that the statute of limitations barred the recovery of all of the plaintiffs. As explained by the court:

  • Hubbard was a fire fighter trainee who attended the County’s Fire Fighter Training Academy in March and April of 2020.
  • Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the statewide “stay-at-home” Executive Order issued on March 19, 2020, the County adjusted its fire fighter training program.
  • To conduct the Fire Academy safely and minimize the chances of trainees contracting COVID-19, the County developed a modified training program where the trainees were required to quarantine in a hotel near the Fire Academy six nights per week, at the The County consulted with the trainees’ union — Los Angeles County Fire Fighters, IAFF Local 1014, prior to implementing the new plan.
  • The trainees in Recruit Classes 156 through 160 participated in the modified training program.
  • They attended the Fire Academy six days per week for ten hours a day. Mondays through Fridays, after leaving the Fire Academy, they were required to quarantine at the hotel until their training began again the next morning.
  • After training ended on Saturdays, the trainees were free to leave the Fire Academy and hotel, as long as they returned to the hotel the next evening.
  • The County did not require the trainees to respond to work calls while at the hotel and did not compensate them for the time they spent quarantining there.
  • Rather, the trainees were compensated for the 40 hours of regular time and 20 hours of overtime they spent training each week.
  • Recruit Class 156 began their training and quarantining at the hotel on March 30, 2020, and Recruit Class 160 completed its training and quarantining on November 25, 2020.
  • Hubbard, a member of Recruit Class 156, filed his collective action complaint on March 8, 2023, alleging the following claims against Defendants: (1) failure to pay overtime wages in violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. § 207; and (2) “writ of mandate” pursuant to Cal. Code. Civ. P. § 1085.
  • A claim for unpaid overtime compensation under the FLSA is subject to a two-year statute of limitations.
  • However, if an employer’s violation of the FLSA was “willful,” then the statute of limitations may be extended to three years.
  • An FLSA claim accrues on the date that plaintiffs allege they should have been, but were not, compensated for their overtime hours worked.
  • For a named plaintiff, the statute of limitations runs until “the date when the complaint is filed… and his written consent to become a party plaintiff is filed on such date in the court in which the action is brought.”
  • Hubbard completed his training and quarantining on April 27, 2020, and the last Recruit Class of Opt-in Plaintiffs completed their training and quarantining on November 25, 2020. Even assuming that the County waited until two weeks after each Plaintiffs’ last training day to issue their final paychecks, the latest date on which Hubbard’s FLSA claim could have accrued was May 11, 2020, and the latest date on which the Opt-in Plaintiffs’ FLSA claims could have accrued was December 9, 2020.
  • All Plaintiffs, including Hubbard, filed their Consent Forms on January 30, 2024.
  • Accordingly, more than three years passed between the last date Plaintiffs’ claims could have accrued and the date Plaintiffs filed their Consent Forms.
  • Therefore, regardless of whether the two- or three-year statute of limitations applies, all Plaintiffs’ FLSA claims would be untimely unless equitable tolling applies to revive the stale claims.
  • Plaintiffs request that the Court equitably toll the statute of limitations for their FLSA claims from the date they filed their Consent Forms (January 30, 2024) back to the date Hubbard filed the Complaint (March 8, 2023).
  • Hubbard’s Motion for Conditional Certification of FLSA Collective Action … requested that the Court equitably toll the statute of limitations for potential opt-in plaintiffs.
  • The Court denied that request because Hubbard did not identify any extraordinary circumstances or wrongful conduct by Defendants to warrant tolling.
  • As before, the Court concludes that equitable tolling is not warranted because no “extraordinary circumstances” exist here, and because Defendants did not engage in the requisite “wrongful conduct.”
  • The Court therefore denies Plaintiffs’ Motion for Equitable Tolling.
  • For all these reasons, the Court concludes that Defendants are entitled to summary judgment on Plaintiffs’ FLSA claims.

The court declined to consider the plaintiffs’ state law claims, which will likely result in them being raised in Los Angeles County Superior Court. Here is a comply of the decision.

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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