In most overtime cases under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), the courts interpret the exemptions to the law narrowly, in favor of the employees seeking to be paid overtime. However, in a recent overtime collective action case decided by the Eleventh Circuit (the federal appeals court with jurisdiction over the federal district courts of Georgia, Florida and Alabama), the court gave the firefighter exemption a broad interpretation and denied overtime to the plaintiffs. Gonzalez v. City of Deerfield Beach, Florida.
In the case, a group of 12 firefighters/EMTs and emergency rescue supervisors employed by the City of Deerfield Beach, Florida sued the city for unpaid overtime. Although the employees had all been trained in fire suppression, only one of the plaintiffs had actually engaged in putting out fires on the job. Nevertheless, the City argued that the plaintiffs were not entitled to overtime based on the exemption for employees of a “public agency engaged in fire protection or law enforcement activities.” 29 U.S.C. § 207(k).