Fire chiefs sue, say city of Vancouver owes overtime

Lawsuit filed by group of VFD battalion chiefs claims city violated Fair Labor Standards Act

By Lauren Dake, Columbian Political Writer

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A group of Vancouver Fire Department battalion chiefs is suing the city for allegedly not paying them overtime they were owed.

The suit claims the city of Vancouver violated the Fair Labor Standards Act, a federal law establishing overtime pay requirements.

For workers who earn an hourly wage and work more than 40 hours in a 7-day work week, they must be paid overtime, according to the Washington state Labor and Industries website.

“When paying overtime, a business must pay at least one and one-half times the worker’s regular hourly rate,” the website reads.

The fire chiefs state they were paid at the rate of time-and-one-quarter (1.25) rather than time-and-one-half (1.5). The employees repeatedly alerted the city they were being unlawfully compensated, the suit alleges.

The 2016 contract for the battalion chiefs showed they earned a range of salaries from $111,384 to $136,008, not counting overtime, which can boost their pay substantially. In 2014, one battalion chief collected $69,431 in overtime, pushing his pay to $193,638 –more than Vancouver’s city manager that year.

Current and retired Battalion Chiefs Drew Tracy, Duane Schuman, Rick Steele, Daniel Kevin Griffee, Richard Huffman, Lee Hazelton, Chris Lines, Scott Willis are listed as the plaintiffs.

They are asking for $200,000 collectively in unpaid wages or $25,000 each, plus attorney fees.

The city and Vancouver Fire Department Chief Molina declined to comment, other than issue a statement.

“The City has consistently compensated the battalion chiefs in accordance with the negotiated collective bargaining agreement, which complies with federal and state law. We will continue to do so,” Daniel Lloyd, the city’s assistant attorney wrote in a statement. “The City recognizes that the battalion chiefs have been and continue to be a valuable part of the fire department’s management team.”

The attorney representing the battalion chiefs, Katelyn Oldman with the Tedesco Law Group, did not return calls seeking comment.