If you work more than 40 hours a week, you should be paid overtime. Plaquemines Parish required its paramedics and emergency medical technicians to work 132 hours every pay period, but did not pay a dime of overtime premiums. Those paramedics and EMTs stayed in Parish fire or EMS stations, many miles from their homes, and remained on call 24/7 and ready to respond to life-saving emergencies. After enduring years of underpayment, the paramedics hired overtime attorney Charles Stiegler who, along with co-counsel Joe Kopfler, set out to make that right. We are very pleased to report that the Fifth Circuit agreed with our clients in an opinion issued last week, titled Babin v. Plaquemines Parish.
This case has been a long-fought battle, as the Parish defended the case zealously. We successfully beat the Parish’s motion to have the claims dismissed at summary judgment, then took the case to trial – twice. The ultimate question was whether, according to the federal Fair Labor Standards Act and decades-old Supreme Court precedent, the paramedics’ standby time was spent for the “primary benefit” of their employer. If the answer is yes, that time was compensable, and overtime pay was owed.
The jury ultimately found (correctly) that the paramedics and EMTs were spending their standby time primarily for the benefit of the Parish, and therefore entitled to overtime pay. Strangely, though, the jury found that plaintiffs had failed to show the damages portion of their case; that is, that overtime premiums had not been paid. In reality, the testimony and documentary evidence was undisputed — the paramedics and EMTs were never paid overtime premiums, and the Parish never seriously contended otherwise. However, because of this unexpected jury finding, the Parish was not ordered to repay any back wages.
Our clients appealed. After several rounds of briefing, the federal Fifth Circuit agreed completely with our arguments and reversed the trial court’s decision. As the Fifth Circuit noted:
All the evidence in the record indicates that the employees’ standby time was over forty hours a week. Because the employees’ standby time was working time, and because that time exceeded forty hours, the Parish owed the employees overtime pay.
The Court further rejected the Parish’s argument that this objection could only be raised before the jury was dismissed. The opinion notes that clear Fifth Circuit precedent held that parties may move for judgment as a matter of law after the jury is dismissed. (In fact, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 50(b) seemingly requires this motion to be raised after the jury is dismissed). The Fifth Circuit then remanded (sent back) the case to the trial court, who will now decide precisely how much is owed in back wages, penalties, and attorneys’ fees.
Along with co-counsel Joe Kopfler, we are very pleased to have won this important overtime victory in favor of the hard-working paramedics and EMTs who have been denied their rightfully earned overtime for too many years.