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High-ranking Lee County paramedics say overtime pay denied

Sep. 30, 2012


Lee County faces its second lawsuit from high-ranking paramedics who claim the county cheated them out of overtime pay and broke federal labor laws in the process.

Three captains in the county’s Emergency Medical Services department filed a federal lawsuit in June alleging the county arbitrarily reclassified their positions in 2008 to avoid paying them overtime, according to the lawsuit and their lawyer, James Brantley.

“I would assume it was done as a cost savings measures. I can’t imagine any other reason,” Brantley said. “You don’t have to pay people overtime, shift differential or holiday pay.”

In 2010, the county settled a similar lawsuit with 12 lieutenants for $37,000 plus an additional $21,000 in attorney’s fees. The county agreed to all the demands in that case, including a return to hourly wages for the lieutenants and pay and-half for overtime hours that were worked, according to court documents.

If the case goes to trial, EMS captains Christopher Sutton, Eileen Briscoe and David Wheaton will seek three years of overtime multiplied by two, Brantley said.

But first the three will have to prove the county intentionally violated labor laws, Brantley said.

The assistant county attorney handling the case, John Turner, did not return calls for comment Thursday and Friday. County Attorney Michael Hunt referred questions to Turner.

In court documents, the county denied overtime pay was wrongly withheld.

But according to Brantley, the three captains received the same pay and their duties remained identical when the county switched them to salary and stopped paying them overtime.

Sutton was one of the lieutenants who received a payout as part of the 2010 settlement. The county gave him $1,361, according to court documents.

He later rose in rank, Brantley said.

“Subsequently to that he got promoted to captain and the county for whatever reason decided that the position was exempt,” Brantley said.

Calls to Public Safety Director John Wilson were referred to county administration Thursday.

On Friday, Wilson abruptly retired in the aftermath of Medstar. His second-in-command, EMS Chief Kim Dickerson also was placed on administrative leave, as the county probes what went wrong with the medical flight program.

Assistant County Manager Holly Schwartz did not return requests for comment.

Brantley said he hopes to settle the lawsuit before it goes to court.

“We remain optimistic that we’ll be able to work this out with the county,” Brantley said.

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