San Luis Obispo may pay thousands of dollars in firefighter lawsuit settlement

Posted at 6:41 PM, Jul 11, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-11 21:41:51-04

 A federal lawsuit against the City of San Luis Obispo by firefighters may be coming to an end with a proposed settlement.

The lawsuit, filed in December of 2016, alleges overtime pay violations.

In a settlement agreement, KSBY News has learned firefighters will split nearly $3,000 but taxpayers will pay tens of thousands in other costs, including legal fees.

City Manager Derek Johnson says each firefighter involved will get anywhere from $25 to hundreds of dollars.

The calculations were determined by a three-year look-back audit agreed to by the city and the SLO City Fire union in early 2016 but the union filed a federal lawsuit in December of that year. The lawsuit claimed an alleged violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act in which an employee’s regular rate of pay includes those cash payments given in lieu of health coverage. The city was accused of underpaying overtime by excluding those payments when calculating the regular rate of pay.

"The amount the individuals received was not a large sum, not really even close to the amount they should have been owed," said Armando Gutierrez, President of SLO City Fire Local 3523.

The union leader says the mutually agreed upon settlement will help avoid any more costs.

"We settled on a much lower amount knowing that if we went to court, we would have large fees, the city would have much larger fees," added Gutierrez.

While the settlement amount for firefighters is about $3,000, the attorney fees and other costs totaling at least $54,000 will be paid for by taxpayers if the settlement is approved by the city council on Tuesday.

Union leaders say they worked with the city to find the best solution for this settlement even as city rates for retirement plans increase with the union contract.

"Moving forward, we feel this is a step in the right direction and we are optimistic that this will reset our relationship in a way that we can re-focus to serving the community," said Johnson.

Union leaders say if the settlement is approved Tuesday, they will officially drop the federal lawsuit.

The settlement also includes the resolution of a current grievance on over-hires, paving the way for the city to add additional firefighters to cover vacations, injuries and turnover.