4 former York city firefighters seek up to $1.4 million in unpaid overtime suit

Four former firefighters with the city of York are seeking up to $1.4 million for unpaid overtime.
Four former firefighters with the city of York are seeking up to $1.4 million for unpaid overtime.

Four former firefighters with the city of York want almost $1.4 million in unpaid overtime, damages and interest, claiming in a lawsuit they were not paid overtime for years.

The lawsuits, filed March 22 in York County civil court and obtained by The Herald, seek not just back overtime pay, but “three times the full amount of the unpaid wages, plus pre-judgment interest.”

That claim would push an alleged overtime cost of $420,000 to more than $1.2 million, plus interest at 8.75 percent that would make the total cost almost $1.4 million.

S.C. law allows for three times payment of unpaid wages if proven in a civil court.

The four former firefighters allege in the suit that they worked thousands of extra hours for as many as 10 years, but were not paid overtime past 40 hours, required under state law.

Attempts to get the city to pay overtime for former firefighters James Austin, Chris Rose, William Adkins and Derrick Barrentine failed, according to the suits. The suits were filed by Rock Hill lawyer Chan Ahn of the Jordan Law Firm.

Brad Jordan, a senior partner of the firm, said the lawsuits “speak for themselves,” and declined further comment.

York City Manager Lisa Wallace said city officials dispute the lawsuit accusations, and that a labor law firm is representing the city.

“The city believes the employees have been paid properly,” Wallace said.

York Mayor Eddie Lee declined to comment Wednesday, saying the York City Council has not yet received information from city lawyers.

The council is scheduled to be briefed in a closed meeting at Tuesday’s council meeting, said Lee and Wallace. State law allows public bodies to receive legal advice in meetings closed to the public and news media.

At issue is firefighters’ schedules, which are different from almost any other worker in York or anywhere else that has paid firefighters.

The firefighters work a staggered schedule of 24 hours on, then 48 hours off.

That means that some weeks, the firefighters worked as much as 32 hours of overtime a week, and at least eight hours of overtime a week, the lawsuits allege. The lawsuits claim city policy requires “time-and-one-half” overtime pay for hours worked in excess of 40.

Although the city could fight the lawsuit, recent such suits in South Carolina and other state and federal courts have ended with settlements, including one for $17 million in Kentucky.

Charleston had to pay firefighters more than $800,000 last year, and suburban Washington, D.C. firefighters were recently awarded almost $8 million.