Court action affects pay Supreme Court refuses to hear Arundel appeal of paramedics' lawsuit

Back-pay bill at $4 million

Employees sued to receive overtime after 40 hours' work

December 08, 1998|By Devon Spurgeon | Devon Spurgeon,SUN STAFF Sun staff writers Lyle Denniston and Tom Pelton contributed to this article.

The Supreme Court's refusal yesterday to hear an appeal of an Anne Arundel County case about paying paramedics overtime likely will cost the county $4 million and was greeted by municipal officials nationwide as bad news.

The high court's failure to hear the case means a 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling from 1996 will stand. The ruling demands that paramedics be paid time-and-a-half overtime after working 40 hours. Anne Arundel County owes its 142 paramedics 10 years worth of back overtime pay.

"On my first day in office, I didn't need a $4 million bill," said Janet S. Owens, Anne Arundel's newly installed county executive. "I'm trying to get an assessment of its impact on the county as we go into our year 2000 budget."

John West, 46, a paramedic whose name appears on the class action suit paramedics filed against the county in 1990, said: "I am totally elated. It has been a long time. I think it is going to pave the way for reduced hours."

F. J. Collins, the paramedics' lawyer, said: "It is very good news that after over eight years of fighting for basic employment rights, these paramedics will be compensated when they work more than 40 hours a week."

West is expecting a check for 10 years of back pay early next year, though he is uncertain how big it will be -- or how he will spend it.

Also uncertain is the impact the court ruling will have outside Anne Arundel County.

Other areas had clearly been rooting for Anne Arundel to win: 21 states and 10 national organizations had filed briefs in support of the county's case.

"The judge in this case found against a fire department that had cross-trained personnel," said Alan Caldwell, director of government relations for the International Association of Fire Chiefs. "This raises the issue for all other fire departments who run emergency medical services: fire departments in New York, Chicago and San Francisco."

Lawsuit filed in 1990

In the early 1990s, Anne Arundel County began to give its firefighters training in rescue and emergency medical services, which the Fire Department responds to much more often than fires.

The county customarily has paid paramedics overtime only after they have worked a 53-hour week.

In August 1990, firefighter/emergency medical technicians sued, demanding that they be paid overtime for work beyond 40 hours.

Judge Walter E. Black Jr. of U.S. District Court in Baltimore ruled in June 1992 that the paramedics were not covered by Labor Department regulations that allow 53-hour workweeks without overtime for public safety workers.

The county appealed to the 4th Circuit, which also ruled against it in February.

After the full Circuit Court refused to reconsider the case in May, the county appealed to the Supreme Court.

Anne Arundel officials argued that the federal government cannot force states to pay overtime, presumably because police departments have traditionally fallen under state control. But the appeals court found that paramedics were medical personnel, not public safety workers.

In other local departments

Other Baltimore-area departments cross-train as well and are likely to review staffing and scheduling procedures in light of the Anne Arundel County decision, officials said.

In Howard County, all paramedics are cross-trained as firefighters, and only work in excess of 52 hours a week is overtime.

Paramedics in Baltimore City are cross-trained as firefighters and can transfer to firefighting at will.

"Contractually and by including paramedics in the police and fire pension system, Baltimore paramedics chose to be included in the pension system and to forgo any overtime," said Capt. Stephan G. Fugate, president of the fire officers union in Baltimore City.

Baltimore County settled its federal lawsuit on overtime pay in 1996 and gives paramedics time-and-a-half pay when their workweek exceeds 40 hours, said Mark Hubbard, spokesman for the county Fire Department. Baltimore County paid $1.7 million to 300 Fire Department paramedics as part of that case.

The amount of back pay Anne Arundel's paramedics will receive as a result of their lawsuit varies based on how long they have been in the department, how much vacation time they have and what rank they hold.

Anne Arundel officials have budgeted for a loss in the case, they said, but have not saved enough to pay the cost of overtime to all firefighters who are also trained as paramedics.

Pub Date: 12/08/98

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