Monday, August 8, 2011

NYC police sergeants are entitled to overtime pay

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, you are entitled to overtime pay if you work more than 40 hours per week. This rule has its exceptions. A "bona-fide executive" is exempt from the overtime entitlement. Do police sergeants fall within this exemption?

The case is Mullins v. City of New York, decided on August 5. The case went to trial, and the City won the case. The district court rejected plaintiffs' motion against the verdict because it said the police sergeants essentially held managerial positions and therefore were not entitled to overtime. As the plaintiffs represent 4,000 officers, there is a lot of money to go around in this case.

The limited group of plaintiffs (known as test plaintiffs) in this case include Housing Patrol Unit Sergeants, Bike Unit Sergeants and Anti-Crime Unit Sergeants and Street Narcotic Enforcement Unit Sergeants. As the Court of Appeals says, "These categories of sergeants perform general law enforcement activities as well as specialized law enforcement activities undertaken only by sergeants as opposed to lower-ranked police officers; sergeants are the second-lowest ranked officers in the NYPD. For example, sergeants are responsible for responding to incidents involving felonies, firearm discharges, and emotionally disturbed individuals." In addition, "While their specific duties vary according to unit, sergeants are generally involved in activities that include pursuing, restraining, and apprehending suspects."

The district court said that the sergeants' primary handle managerial duties. The U.S. Department of Labor weighs in on this issue, arguing that the plaintiffs are not exempt from the overtime rules because their primary duty is not management or supervision, but rather “front line law enforcement.” The Court of Appeals (Newman, Calabresi and Katzmann) defers to the Secretary of Labor's interpretation of the FLSA. The Secretary argues that “[T]he fact that the sergeants direct police officers while they perform field law enforcement activities does not transform the field law enforcement into management.” The Secretary adds, "giving direction and exercising discretion while performing field law enforcement work do not transform [sergeants’] non-management primary duty in a management primary duty.” In entering judgment for the plaintiffs and directing that they receive overtime pay for a three-year period ending in 2004, the Second Circuit concludes:

In light of the Secretary’s controlling interpretation of the first responder regulation, the fact that plaintiffs spend the majority of their time performing non-exempt work in the field, leads to the conclusion that the sergeants’ primary duty is not management but field law enforcement.

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