Kansas City Accused of Flouting EMT Overtime Ruling

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (CN) – Paramedics and EMTs are once again suing Kansas City’s fire department for not paying them time and a half for overtime hours, claiming the city has ignored a 2014 ruling finding the workers are not exempt from overtime rules.

John Zimmerli and Matthew Dietrick filed a class-action complaint against Kansas City, Mo., on Thursday, much like Marissa Hermsen did in 2011.

Despite the court ruling in favor of Hermsen and over 100 other plaintiffs, life-saving employees of the city are still being shorted when it comes to their pay, according to Zimmerli and Dietrick.

After three years of litigation, a judge ruled in Hermsen’s case that Kansas City violated federal law by not properly paying emergency medical technicians and paramedics who work over 40 hours a week.

The parties agreed on a $1.9 million settlement, but Zimmerli and Dietrick say the city has either forgotten or ignored that judgment, and could once again cost taxpayers millions of dollars to correct the problem.

The city classifies paramedics and EMTs as firefighters and say they are exempt from overtime until they work 49 hours a week, even though they “have no fire suppression equipment, and are not expected to, or called upon to engage in fire suppression,” the lawsuit states.

Zimmerli and Dietrick say they have not only been denied overtime pay, but the city also illegally recalculated their monthly pay rates to circumvent the court order.

There are two ways to classify EMTs and paramedics: single-purpose or static EMTs – those that are not assigned to a fire station and have not gone through the Fire Academy – and dual purpose – those who have the training to work both as firefighters and as paramedics.

The federal judge in Hermsen’s case ruled that static employees are not exempt from the right to receive overtime payment – which is one and a half times the regular pay rate after 40 hours – but Thursday’s lawsuit says they “have not seen an increase in pay when working their regularly scheduled overtime shifts.”

“From our perspective, it’s pretty clear that subsequent to previous litigation that the KCFD has created a scheme to avoid paying overtime,” said Michael Hodgson, attorney for the plaintiffs in both cases.

He explained that the city loads EMTs and paramedics on ambulance runs for the first part of the week, and when they get close to overtime they are put on a fire truck as “part of the whole systematic attempt to avoid paying,” Hodgson said.

City employees who say they’ve been denied overtime pay have three years to opt in to the new class-action lawsuit.

“The city administration shouldn’t have tried to be slick by putting the former [Metropolitan Ambulance Services Trust] paramedics and emergency medical technicians through a little rinky-dink, 40-hour fighting training program and then claiming they were firefighters to avoid paying them overtime,” former city councilman John A. Sharp said in local news reports after the ruling in Hermsen’s case in 2014.

The Kansas City city manager’s office said in a statement on Thursday’s lawsuit, “The City believes it took proper steps to comply with the [Fair Labor Standards Act] following the Court’s 2014 order, while maintaining an efficient, responsive medical unit. The City will review the new lawsuit and respond appropriately.”

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