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A team of lawyers at Cozen O’Connor has saved the city of Philadelphia more than $10 million now that a federal judge has ruled that a group of more than 300 paramedics are not entitled to additional overtime pay since they fall under the same exemption that denies overtime pay to firefighters. In his 11-page opinion in Lawrence v. City of Philadelphia, Senior U.S. District Judge Clifford Scott Green ruled that Philadelphia’s paramedics are covered by Section 203(y) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, which established higher overtime thresholds for “fire-protection employees.” Lawyers for the paramedics argued that their clients were not covered by Section 203(y) because Philadelphia’s paramedics are not trained in firefighting as extensively as firefighters and are only rarely called on to perform such duties. They urged Green to follow a 2005 decision from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that said Los Angeles paramedics were not covered by the exemption. But Green disagreed, finding that both in training and in practice, Philadelphia’s paramedics meet the law’s definition of “fire-protection employees.” If Green had ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, the case would have proceeded to the damages phase and the judgment against the city would likely have exceeded $10 million, as well as costing the city millions more in future overtime pay for paramedics. The ruling is a victory for attorneys Mark J. Foley (no relation to the recently disgraced Florida Congressman), George A. Voegele Jr. and Victoria L. Zellers of Cozen O’Connor. Passed by Congress in 1999 as an amendment to the FLSA, Section 203(y) was intended to clear up confusion over which workers were subject to a higher overtime threshold. But in the short-term, the law spawned a mini-wave of litigation by paramedics and dispatchers who claimed they should not be treated the same as full-time firefighters. Most workers are entitled to overtime pay whenever they work more than 40 hours in a week. But Section 203(y) sets a higher threshold for firefighters, who are not entitled to overtime until they have worked at least 61 hours in an eight-day period. In the Philadelphia case, plaintiffs attorneys Robert A. Jones of Chamberlain Kaufman & Jones in Albany, N.Y., and Solomon Z. Krevsky of Harrisburg, Pa., argued that the training and duties of the paramedics shows that they are not working in the area of fire protection. But defense lawyers argued that Philadelphia’s paramedics are employees of the fire department who are fully trained in firefighting and carry equipment for that task. The plaintiffs lawyers argued that Philadelphia paramedics are not instructed in fire-suppression as extensively as firefighters, and that Section 203(y) requires identical or equivalent training. Green disagreed and found that the only requirement under the law is that the worker be fully trained in fire-suppression. “To be sure, the training of firefighters is more rigorous, extensive, and intensive than the training required of fire-service paramedics. However, the training of fire-service paramedics requires several weeks of attendance at the fire academy and the satisfactory completion of relevant fire-suppression instruction,” Green wrote. “This training cannot properly be characterized as merely orientation as plaintiffs argue,” Green wrote. The Department of Labor’s regulations, Green noted, merely require training “to the extent required by state statute or local ordinance.” In Pennsylvania, Green said, the law does not require any specific period or type of training, and it is therefore “left to the local government to prescribe the extent of training.” As a result, Green said, “a reasonable jury could only find, on the record before the court, that Philadelphia fire service paramedics are trained as required by Section 203(y). The statute and regulations do not require more.” Turning to the second prong of the test, Green found that Philadelphia paramedics also have firefighting authority and responsibilities. “The evidence is undisputed that at every fire scene an incident commander is charged with the responsibility of directing the activities of the firefighters and fire-service paramedics. Thus, when directed to engage in fire-suppression, fire-service paramedics have the legal authority and responsibility to do so,” Green wrote. The plaintiffs’ lawyers stressed that, in practice, Philadelphia paramedics have been called upon only rarely to aid in fire-suppression. Green was unimpressed, saying, “It is beyond dispute that fire service paramedics have, on occasion, been directed to aid in fire-suppression, and when directed have done so. There is no evidence that such a command has ever been questioned or refused.” The plaintiffs’ lawyers urged Green to follow the 9th Circuit’s decision in Cleveland v. City of Los Angeles, which said that city’s paramedics were entitled to standard overtime pay. But Green found that the evidence in the Philadelphia case showed different facts. The Los Angeles paramedics, Green noted, were able to show that they don’t carry firefighting equipment or breathing apparatuses and are not regularly dispatched to fire scenes, and that no paramedic has ever been ordered to perform fire-suppression. In Philadelphia, Green said, the opposite is true. “Here, it is undisputed that fire-service paramedics have been directed, on a number of occasions, to perform fire-suppression activities and when ordered they have obeyed. It is also clear that paramedic ambulances in Philadelphia carry breathing apparatus, and paramedics in Philadelphia are provided fire-protective gear to wear,” Green wrote. The evidence, Green said, “clearly and convincingly” established the city’s right to apply the Section 203(y) exemption to its paramedics. “Philadelphia fire-service paramedics have in writing acknowledged, and by their performance, verified their responsibility to engage in fire-suppression activity,” Green wrote. “There is no evidence of record that would support a finding by a reasonable jury that the obligation and responsibility to engage in fire-suppression on command is not genuine or real,” Green wrote. Although paramedics and firefighters “have different job descriptions and are called upon to concentrate their efforts according to their respective job descriptions,” Green found that the evidence “clearly establishes that paramedics are in fact expected to perform fire-suppression activities when directed � and the obligation to follow the command is real.” (Copies of the 11-page opinion in Lawrence v. City of Philadelphia , PICS No. 06-1372, are available from The Legal Intelligencer . Please call the Pennsylvania Instant Case Service at 800-276-PICS to order or for information. Some cases are not available until 1 p.m.) •

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