Group of Pelham firefighters file lawsuit against city

Five current and former Pelham firefighters are suing the city, alleging the city violated the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 and the civil service law, which governs how the city’s employees are compensated.

Current firefighters Kenneth Camp, Todd McCarver, Patrick Smith and Stephen Kiel, along with retired firefighter Randal Bearden, are being represented by Attorney F. Inge Johnstone.

In the two-count complaint, the firefighters are seeking unpaid wages, overtime wages and liquidated damages, plus a permanent injunction to prohibit the city from further violating the FLSA and the civil service law.

The firefighters are also seeking class action status for the lawsuit due to the number of firefighters employed by the city since 2003.

“They’re trying to change the way the city of Pelham handles its business in relation to the payment and compensation of its firefighters,” Johnstone said.

Johnstone said since the city has all the payroll records, he did not have an exact amount the firefighters are seeking, but he did say “the numbers are substantial.”

Pelham City Attorney Frank “Butch” Ellis Jr. said he has not seen a copy of the complaint yet and could not comment directly on the allegations, but he did say he was surprised the plaintiffs and Johnstone would issue a press release on the suit.

“I’m a bit surprised the plaintiffs, through their lawyer, would do a press release,” Ellis said. “We want them to have their day in court, and we want the city to have its day in court, but this should not be played out in the press.”

The city has 21 days from the time it receives the complaint to respond.

The firefighters contend that members of the Pelham department work 24-hour shifts, and then receive 48 hours off.

Until October 2009, the firefighters claim that anyone who worked nine shifts would work 216 hours, while anyone who worked 10 shifts would work 240 hours in a 28-day period.

The FLSA states that anyone engaged in fire protection that works more than 212 hours in a 28-day period receive overtime pay of time and a half.

Since the law allows for the city to pay employees with compensatory time off rather than monetarily, the firefighters claim the city used time off instead of money.

However, the firefighters contend the city used the time off to avoid paying money, and the time off generally resulted in more time than the firefighters could realistically take off.

The suit also alleges that the city has impeded the ability of the firefighters to use the compensatory time given to them in the way they wish to use it.

The firefighters also claim that their sick and vacation time is not comparable to other “40-hour a week” city employees.