One hundred seventy-four firefighters in the New Haven Fire Department are suing the city in federal court, alleging that their overtime compensation has been grossly miscalculated.
On Sept. 1, the group of current and former NHFD employees filed the suit on behalf of the department, alleging that over the last three years, they have not been adequately compensated for overtime work. The lawsuit states that the NHFD currently operates on a 28-day work period in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act, which requires employees to work 212 hours in a work period before they are paid overtime. However, the plaintiffs claim that they were asked to work more than the standard 212 hours before qualifying for overtime pay.
“The city is aware of a class action suit having been brought by a large group of present and former firefighters claiming under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act,” Acting Corporation Counsel John Rose said on behalf of the city of New Haven in a statement. Rose, along with other city officials, declined to comment further on the case. Rose added in his statement that it is against city policy to comment.
Prosecutors working on the case, as well as NHFD Union President James Kottage, did not respond to requests for comment. Fire Chief Allan Wright also did not return requests for comment.
In April, financial reports from both the NHFD and the New Haven Police Department revealed that spending on overtime pay in both departments had fallen dramatically since new hires were made last December. As a result, Mayor Toni Harp cut the NHFD overtime budget from $3.9 million to $1.7 million in her budget for the upcoming year.
But, in the current suit, the firefighters claim that spending on overtime pay dropped because the department failed to adequately compensate workers, not because of the influx of new hires.
According to the suit, firefighters’ overtime hourly pay rate is calculated by dividing their annual salary by the number of regularly scheduled hours worked in one year. They are claiming in the suit that the city failed to calculate the hourly pay rate correctly.
“For example, in the work period covering Feb. 11, 2015 through Mar. 10, 2015, plaintiff David Tortora worked a total of 298 hours causing him to have worked 86 hours above the applicable FLSA threshold,” the lawsuit states, adding that he was compensated at a rate equal to exactly half his established hourly rate for the 86 overtime hours.
This lawsuit comes almost 10 months after Harp announced that she would hire an outside agency to review the operations of the NHFD, acknowledging in a press conference in November that one of her greatest concerns was that overtime pay was too high. And, during discussions about the budget for the current fiscal year, members of the Board of Alders told the fire department to rein in their overtime costs.
Doris Bumas, president of the Greater New Haven Chapter for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People said it is important for the city to acknowledge the lawsuit because it directly affects the livelihoods of the firefighters involved in the case.
“We need a thorough investigation,” she said. “If the city is found to be guilty and not paying people as they should, then they need to make it right.”
Roughly 280 firefighters work for the NHFD.