City risk managers may be able to breathe easier about employers' practice liability, care of a recent case out of the United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia. The issue is whether the City of Brotherly Love is liable for millions in overtime backpay to more than 300 of its fire service paramedics, who've made a collective claim against the city.
In his ruling, Judge Clifford Scott Green found that the city was properly paying its paramedics. Green found that the paramedics were "fire protection employees," as defined in a 1999 congressional amendment to the Fair Labor Standards Act. That means they were held to a higher overtime standard and don't get overtime pay until they work at least 61 hours in an eight-day period. None of the paramedics in the case worked that much.
"This is becoming an issue across the country," said George A. Voegele Jr., an attorney at Cozen O'Connor's Philadelphia office, adding that similar cases have popped up in California, Mississippi, New York and Florida.
Voegele represents the city of Philadelphia in the case, Lawrence et al. v. City of Philadelphia, along with Mark J. Foley, Victoria Zellers and Melanie Kennedy.
The issue is not settled. The paramedics appealed Judge Green's ruling, sending the case to the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has jurisdiction over Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware. The appeals court decision, due in the fall of 2007, according to Voegele, could have ramifications for cities outside the tristate area.
"It clearly could have an impact on how other municipalities handle this issue going forward," Voegele said. "A lot more municipalities may feel comfortable with continuing to consider their paramedics to fall under the exemption."
February 1, 2007
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