Balto. Co. plans to pay paramedics $1.7 million Proposal would settle 6-year-old federal lawsuit over overtime pay

March 21, 1996|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Baltimore County has agreed to pay $1.7 million to nearly 300 Fire Department paramedics to settle a 6-year-old federal lawsuit over overtime pay.

"We're pretty well ready for this," Charles Sturm, who has been a paramedic for 16 years and was one of the original plaintiffs, said yesterday. "You don't forget about it. It's been in the back of everybody's mind."

The lawsuit and a companion case from Anne Arundel County were triggered by a Supreme Court decision that county employees are protected by the federal Fair Labor Standards Act.

Paramedics said they should get time-and-a-half overtime pay after working 40 hours a week, though firefighters are exempt from the federal law. County officials argued that paramedics are "firefighters" and therefore must work 53 hours a week to qualify for overtime.

The tentative settlement, reached Friday, is subject to the agreement of each of the 277 Baltimore County paramedics. It does not affect the Anne Arundel case. That suit, which would give $3 million in back overtime pay to 128 paramedics, is in a federal appeals court.

Andrew H. Kahn, the lawyer handling both suits for the paramedics, said that "in a modern fire department, a paramedic may go through a 25-year career without ever touching a hose."

Baltimore County Fire Chief Allen A. Thomason and County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III said they are happy the suit is nearly settled.

The suit has been "festering" in the minds of county paramedics, Chief Thomason said. "Now we can move forward," he said, adding that the proposed settlement may lead to higher costs for his department.

"This is a very fair settlement for both sides," Mr. Ruppersberger said. Money to pay the judgment was put aside several years ago, he said.

Starting July 1, Baltimore County paramedics will begin receiving overtime when they work more than 40 hours a week. But that practice could be halted if Anne Arundel succeeds in its appeal of senior U.S. District Judge Walter E. Black's ruling last summer in favor of paramedics from both counties.

Judge Black ordered that the Anne Arundel paramedics, who typically work many more hours on average per week than those in Baltimore County, get from $1,600 to $48,000 each.

Lisa Ritter, a spokeswoman for Anne Arundel County Executive John G. Gary, said the county plans to set aside money to pay the paramedics starting July 1, in case the county loses in court.

Mr. Kahn said no calculation of individual payments has been made for Baltimore County paramedics.

If the paramedics received the same amount, and no legal fees were taken from the settlement, each would get $6,137.

But Mr. Kahn said some paramedics may get no money, while others may get more than the average. He declined to discuss his firm's fee arrangement.

Pub Date: 3/21/96

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