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Paramedics suing for overtime pay under federal law are getting mixed signals from courts across the country. In the last year, courts in Mississippi, California, Pennsylvania and Florida have ruled on overtime lawsuits brought by paramedics: two siding with the paramedics, the other two with municipalities that argued the workers were not entitled to overtime under a special exemption. In the most recent ruling, a federal court in Philadelphia ruled last week that more than 250 paramedics were not entitled to overtime pay because they fit under a special exemption-a ruling that saved the city millions of dollars. Lawrence et al v. City of Philadelphia, No. 03-CV-4009 (E.D.Pa.). The exemption at issue states that employees engaged in firefighting activities, including paramedics, can receive overtime only for more than 61 hours work in an eight-day week. The paramedics are appealing, arguing that they’re neither trained firefighters, nor responsible for putting out fires, so they shouldn’t fit under that exemption. “The city hires firefighters to fight its fires. It hires paramedics to take care of the sick and injured,” said Robert Jones, of Chamberlain Kaufman and Jones in Albany, N.Y., who represents the paramedics. “The bottom line here is that we’re disappointed with the decision, and we will be filing an appeal.” Paramedic training key According to George A. Voegele Jr. of Cozen O’Connor in Philadelphia, who represents the city of Philadelphia in the litigation, the case hinged on the duties of the paramedic and their level of training. He said that in order for paramedics to fit under the overtime exemption, as mandated by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, the city has to show that the paramedics were both trained in and sometimes responsible for firefighting. Voegele said the city did just that, showing that it provided paramedics with some basic level of fire training, that paramedics have been called upon to put out fires and that some have even won awards for their firefighting efforts. “You don’t need to be a fully functioning firefighter to fit the exemption,” Voegele said, adding, “and the court agreed.” But the courts have had different takes on the issue, which has been raised by paramedics who claim they are wrongfully labeled as dual-paramedics trained to both save lives and put out fires. On Sept. 15, for example, a federal court in Florida held that paramedics did not have sufficient authority to engage in fire suppression, and it was unclear that they had ever been ordered to engage in putting out fires. Therefore, the court said, they didn’t qualify for the exemption, but instead were entitled to traditional overtime. Diaz v. City of Plantation, No. 05-60757 (S.D. Fla.). In contrast, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in June against paramedics in the city of Water Valley, Miss., finding that they were not entitled to overtime. McGavock v. City of Water Valley, No. 452 (F3d 423 5th Cir.). The court held that the paramedics had sufficient training in firefighting, therefore they qualified for the exemption and were not entitled to regular overtime. In California, however, the 9th Circuit ruled in favor of paramedics, holding that there were factual disputes as to whether they had authority to put out fires. Therefore, the court held, the paramedics did not qualify for the exemption and were entitled to traditional overtime pay. Cleveland v. Los Angeles, No. 03-5505. In March, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review the 9th Circuit case.

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