City EMTs score second legal victory in fight over unpaid work time

A Manhattan federal appeals court upheld a multimillion-dollar jury verdict ordering the city to compensate FDNY paramedics and EMTs for unpaid work done before and after their scheduled shifts.

The 40-page Friday decision by the 2nd Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals declined to reverse a 2019 federal jury verdict that the city had violated the federal Fair Labor Standards Act by stiffing the 2,519 plaintiffs, with compensation set at nearly $18 million.

“This is excellent news for the plaintiffs, and for all EMTs and paramedics who work for the city, risking their lives on a daily basis to protect the citizens of New York,” said Oren Barzilay, president of EMS Local 2507.

“They deserve to be paid for all their work time and the city’s timekeeping system deprived them of that,” he continued. “Every day our members are robbed of their dignity when they look at their checks. Sadly, we don’t even have an adequate payroll system.”

Lawyers for the city did not return a Saturday call for comment on the ruling.

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In the earlier case, a judgment was entered against the city for $17,780,063 after a three-week trial, covering back pay in the amount of $7,238,513, the same amount in liquidated damages and an additional $3,303,037 for attorneys’ fees.

“The city accordingly asks that we reverse the jury’s verdict or remand for a new trial on damages,” wrote the federal panel. “We decline to do so and instead affirm. … The city knew the plaintiffs were performing unreported shift work yet took insufficient action to remedy the situation.”

The workers’ lawsuit charged employees received no compensation for work done 15 minutes before and 15 minutes after their eight-hour shifts. The EMTs typically prepped their equipment prior to the scheduled shift starts and stayed late to restock their ambulances and update workers arriving for the next shift.

“Because the record supports the jury’s finding that the city had a policy or practice of requiring plaintiffs to perform work before and after their shifts, we uphold the jury’s verdict that the city [was in violation] by not compensating them for that work,” the decision added.

The jury deliberated for less than two hours before returning its verdict in favor of the city workers. The union had argued the EMTs and paramedics were denied the extra pay even though they were logged into the city’s electronic timekeeping system, known as CityTime, when handling their pre- and post-shift responsibilities.

The lawsuit was brought in February 2013, with the union seeking back pay for the extra time and alleging the city violated fair labor standards with its policy. City attorneys argued they should not be held liable for the unpaid overtime because the workers had failed to report the hours at issue.

“But an employer must pay for all work it knows about or requires, even if the employee does not specifically request compensation for it,” read the decision.

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