Court awards paramedics $3 million in overtime pay County offers no money until it exhausts appeals

January 31, 1996|By Marcia Myers | Marcia Myers,SUN STAFF

Anne Arundel County must pay nearly $3 million in overtime compensation withheld from paramedics since the late 1980s in violation of federal labor laws, according to a federal court ruling.

Senior U.S. District Judge Walter E. Black ruled last summer in favor of the paramedics, who had sued to receive time-and-a-half pay for work exceeding 40 hours in a week.

But the compensation to be paid was not resolved until Jan. 19, when Judge Black ordered that Anne Arundel County pay each of the 128 paramedics affected by the decision amounts ranging from $1,600 to $48,000.

The judge has yet to decide on the amount that should be paid to Baltimore County paramedics, who won a similar ruling last summer.

No money will be paid until appeals in the case are exhausted, said Lisa Ritter, an Anne Arundel County spokeswoman.

Gail Watson, an assistant county attorney, said an appeal would be filed soon with the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va.

"It's a fairly new law as applied to governments," Ms. Watson said. "It's only been since the late 1980s that these issues have been raised."

Should the county lose the appeal, the $3 million becomes "an unfunded liability" in the county's annual operating budget of $733 million, Ms. Ritter said.

"I don't know where the money would come from," she said. "We haven't even begun to look at that."

The cases are similar to others that have been filed around the country since 1986, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that county employees are protected by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

Officials in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties contend that the paramedics are "firefighters," and therefore must work 53 hours before they qualify for overtime.

Judge Black rejected that argument and another that said the paramedics are ineligible for overtime because they are professionals.

The amount of back pay was calculated according to instructions from the judge.

Judge Black decided against the paramedics' request for damages and an extra year of overtime.

"We are willing to live with the judge's decision despite the fact that it really is the smallest amount due the law would permit," said F. J. Collins, attorney for the paramedics.

Baltimore City settled a similar lawsuit out of court in 1992.

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