Judge rules in favor of EMTs in dispute with KC about overtime pay

06/28/2014 5:55 PM

06/28/2014 9:15 PM

A judge has ruled in favor of emergency medical technicians and paramedics in a three-year-old lawsuit that accuses Kansas City of violating federal law in its overtime pay policies for those employees.

In an order issued last week, U.S. District Judge Beth Phillips denied the city’s motion for summary judgment and found that the employees were not exempt from overtime. Phillips also granted the plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgment on liability, which means the issue left to be resolved now is how much the city owes the plaintiffs in damages.

A bench trial to determine that issue has been scheduled for Aug. 4. There are about 110 plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

“This means the plaintiffs have won,” Michael Hodgson, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, said Saturday. “We’re very pleased with the order. It’s very consistent with what we’ve thought all along — that these were non-exempt employees and they should have been paid for overtime.”

When the lawsuit was filed, the city attorney said that although there had been recent changes in shift assignments for some paramedics and EMTs, they believed the city was in compliance.

Neither the current fire chief nor the current city attorney could be reached for comment, and a city spokesman said he was unable to reach the city’s legal team.

City Councilman John A. Sharp said taxpayers will now pay for the mistakes of city officials.

“The city administration shouldn’t have tried to be slick by putting the former MAST paramedics and emergency medical technicians through a little rinky-dink, 40-hour firefighting training program and then claiming they were firefighters to avoid paying them overtime when they worked more than 40 hours a week,” Sharp said on Saturday. “Now the taxpayers are going to have to pay the bill.”

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in July 2011, sought class-action status for former and current city employees who worked as EMTs and paramedics.

At the time the suit was filed, the Kansas City Fire Department — which began operating the city’s former Municipal Ambulance Services Trust in April 2010 — employed about 140 paramedics and more than 1,000 emergency medical technicians.

A union official said Saturday that 132 current employees would be affected by last week’s ruling.

The lawsuit alleges that the city “has had a policy and practice of failing and refusing to compensate its EMTs and paramedics straight time for all hours worked and overtime compensation for all hours worked in excess of 40 hours per week.”

In her order issued last week, Phillips found that the plaintiffs did not receive the same training as city-employed firefighters, who are generally exempt from overtime unless they work more than 212 hours in a 28-day period.

And because the plaintiffs “do not have the proper equipment, training, or the obligation to engage in fire suppression, they do not have the legal responsibility to engage in fire suppression,” the order said. For that reason, the order said, “the City has not met its burden to show that Plaintiffs ‘fit plainly and unmistakably within the (overtime) exemption’s terms and spirit.’”

Mike Cambiano, president of Local 42 of the International Association of Fire Fighters, said that in the summer of 2012, he had the matter reviewed by two independent labor attorneys.

“They both told me that they (EMS and paramedics) do not meet the requirements of a firefighter and are not to be exempted and that their case was legitimate,” he said.

He said he informed city officials of that in August 2012.

“It’s pretty obvious that the EMS workers were right in their assumption that they shouldn’t have been exploited,” he said. “If the case doesn’t even have to go to trial, it’s a pretty clear case.”

To reach Judy L. Thomas, call 816-234-4334 or send email to jthomas@kcstar.com.

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