United States District Court, M.D. Georgia, Columbus Division
LANCE L. CHRISTENSON, Plaintiff,
COLUMBUS CONSOLIDATED GOVERNMENT and JEFF MEYER, individually and in his capacity as Fire Chief, Defendants.
D. LAND, CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE
Lance Christenson was employed by Defendant Columbus
Consolidated Government (“CCG”) as a fire
investigator with CCG's Department of Fire and Emergency
Medical Services (“Fire & EMS”). Pursuant to
the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C.
§§ 201-219, CCG did not pay Christenson (or other
CCG fire investigators) at the overtime rate until he had
worked 106 hours in a two-week pay period. Christenson
maintains that he was entitled to overtime pay after working
86 hours in a two-week pay period because his job involved
“law enforcement” duties, and the FLSA overtime
threshold for law enforcement personnel is 86 hours in a
two-week pay period, not 106 hours as applied to personnel
engaged in fire suppression. Assuming that Christenson should
be treated as a member of law enforcement for FLSA purposes,
his claim still fails because the FLSA exempts agencies from
the 86-hour threshold if the agency employs less than five
persons with law enforcement duties, as Fire & EMS does.
Accordingly, as explained in more detail in the remainder of
this Order, Christenson's summary judgment motion (ECF
No. 8) is denied, and Defendants' summary judgment motion
(ECF No. 9) is granted.
judgment may be granted only “if the movant shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). In determining whether a genuine
dispute of material fact exists to defeat a motion
for summary judgment, the evidence is viewed in the light
most favorable to the party opposing summary judgment,
drawing all justifiable inferences in the opposing
party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc.,
477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986). A fact is material if it
is relevant or necessary to the outcome of the suit.
Id. at 248. A factual dispute is genuine if
the evidence would allow a reasonable jury to return a
verdict for the nonmoving party. Id.
record reveals the following facts, which are largely
undisputed. From February 2013 until January 2017,
Christenson was employed as a fire investigator with
CCG's Department of Fire and Emergency Medical Services
(“Fire & EMS”). Defendant Jeff Meyer is chief
of Fire & EMS, which is an independent law enforcement
agency recognized by the Peace Officer Standards and Training
Council (“POST”). Fire & EMS is a separate
agency from the Columbus Police Department and the Muscogee
County Sheriff's Office. In his role as Fire Chief, Meyer
manages and oversees Fire & EMS, including approval of
fire investigators' schedules.
the timeframe relevant to the Complaint, Fire & EMS
employed no more than three full-time fire investigators,
whose job was to determine the causes and origins of fires.
Fire investigators gather physical evidence, interview
witnesses, and testify in court. Fire investigators must be
POST-certified, and they have the power to make arrests.
Three full-time fire investigators worked for Fire & EMS
during each week. Irions Dep. 45:9-12, ECF No. 14;
Christenson Dep. 77:3-16, ECF No. 11. Each full-time fire
investigator worked a 24-hour shift and then had 48 hours
off. One full-time fire investigator was on duty at a time.
Shores Dep. 51:7-10, ECF No. 13. Fire & EMS employed a
number of firefighters who were qualified to serve as fire
investigators. Id. at 26:16-25. Those firefighters
are reserve investigators who can fill in when a full-time
investigator is out due to illness, vacation, or training,
but their main duty is fire suppression. Irions Dep.
14:25-15:6, 44:14-21. Occasionally, if there is a fire that
is “particularly complex” or that involves a
death, and “one fire investigator would be overloaded
with a task that needs to take place quickly on the scene,
” the fire protection division chief would instruct the
fire investigator on duty to let the chief know if he needs
help. Shores Dep. 51:17-52:5.
Fire & EMS personnel have fourteen-day work periods and
are paid every two weeks. All Fire & EMS firefighters and
fire investigators received premium overtime compensation
after working 106 hours in a pay period. It is undisputed
that Christenson did not receive time-and-a-half overtime pay
until he had worked 106 hours in a two-week period.
point, Fire & EMS fire investigators came to believe that
they should receive premium overtime compensation after
working 86 hours in a pay period, and they raised the issue
to Meyer and to Fire Prevention Division Chief Ricky Shores.
CCG's human resources department made the decision to
continue paying fire investigators premium overtime
compensation after working 106 hours in a pay period.
FLSA requires employers to pay employees the premium rate of
time-and-a-half when their workweek exceeds forty hours. 29
U.S.C. § 207(a)(1). There are several exceptions to this
general rule, including an exception for public agencies
engaged in fire protection and law enforcement. Id.
§ 207(k). Public agencies do not owe overtime to an
employee engaged in law enforcement activities until he works
more than 86 hours in a two-week period. 29 C.F.R. §
553.230; see also 29 C.F.R. § 553.211 (defining
employee “in law enforcement activities”). Public
agencies do not owe overtime to an employee engaged in fire
protection activities until he works more than 106 hours in a
two-week period. 29 C.F.R. § 553.230; see also
29 U.S.C. § 203(y) (defining “employee in fire
protection activities”). “For those employees who
perform both fire protection and law enforcement activities,
the applicable standard is the one which applies to the
activity in which the employee spends the majority of work
time during the work period.” 29 C.F.R. §
553.213(b). Finally, public agencies are exempt from the
overtime requirements of 29 U.S.C. § 207 for “any
employee . . . who in any workweek is employed in fire
protection activities or any employee of a public agency who
in any workweek is employed in law enforcement activities . .
., if the public agency employs during the workweek less than
5 employees in fire protection or law enforcement activities,
as the case may be[.]” 29 U.S.C. § 213(b)(20).
argues that the evidence establishes, as a matter of law,
that he was engaged in law enforcement activities most of the
time and that he should have been paid at the premium
overtime rate after working 86 hours in a pay
period.CCG, on the other hand, contends that even
if fire investigators were engaged in law enforcement
activities (and not fire protection activities) the majority
of the time, the undisputed evidence shows that no more than
three employees at Fire & EMS were engaged in law
enforcement activities for the majority of the time during
any workweek. Thus, according to CCG, the § 213(b)(20)
exemption applies as a matter of law. The Court finds that
CCG has the better argument.
is no dispute that Fire & EMS is a public agency that is
separate from the Columbus Police Department and the Muscogee
County Sheriff's Office. Christenson does not seriously
dispute that Fire & EMS employed no more than three
full-time fire investigators during a workweek. The Court
assumes for purposes of summary judgment that these three
employees were “law enforcement employees.”
Christenson contends that the Court should also count as
“law enforcement employees” those firefighters
who are qualified to serve as reserve investigators, as well
as Chief Meyer and Fire Prevention Division Chief Shores.
“In determining whether a public agency qualifies for
the section 13(b)(20) exemption, the fire protection and law
enforcement activities are considered separately.” 29
C.F.R. § 553.200(b). “Thus, if a public agency
employs less than five employees in fire protection
activities, but five or more employees in law enforcement
activities . . ., it may claim the exemption for the fire
protection employees but not for the law enforcement
employees.” Id. “No distinction is made
between full-time and part-time employees, or between
employees on duty and employees on leave status, and all such
categories must be counted in determining whether the
exemption applies.” Id.
dispositive issue is whether the reserve fire investigators,
Meyer, and/or Shores are engaged in law enforcement
activities. Under the “dual assignment”
regulation, “the applicable standard is the one which
applies to the activity in which the employee spends the
majority of work time during the work period.” 29
C.F.R. § 553.213(b). In other words, to be considered an
employee “engaged in law enforcement, ” an
employee who has ...