276 F.3d 659 (5th Cir. 2001), 00-20770, Vela v City of Houston

Docket Nº:00-20770
Citation:276 F.3d 659
Party Name:JUAN E. VELA; ET AL, Plaintiffs PHILLIP E. DALEY; TIERA ANGELLE LEGER; RICHARD WAYNE MEDEIROS; CLINT HENDRIX, Plaintiffs - Appellants - Cross-Appellees and CALVIN THAMES, ET AL, Intervenor Plaintiffs CALVIN THAMES, ET AL, Intervenor Plaintiffs- Appellants - Cross-Appellees v. THE CITY OF HOUSTON, Defendant - Appellee - Cross-Appellant PHILIP E DALE
Case Date:December 14, 2001
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit
 
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276 F.3d 659 (5th Cir. 2001)

JUAN E. VELA; ET AL, Plaintiffs

PHILLIP E. DALEY; TIERA ANGELLE LEGER; RICHARD WAYNE MEDEIROS; CLINT HENDRIX, Plaintiffs - Appellants - Cross-Appellees

and

CALVIN THAMES, ET AL, Intervenor Plaintiffs

CALVIN THAMES, ET AL, Intervenor Plaintiffs- Appellants - Cross-Appellees

v.

THE CITY OF HOUSTON, Defendant - Appellee - Cross-Appellant

PHILIP E DALEY; TIERA ANGELLE LEGER; RICHARD WAYNE MEDEIROS; CLINT HENDRIX, Plaintiffs - Appellants - Cross-Appellees

v.

CITY OF HOUSTON, Defendant - Appellee - Cross-Appellant

No. 00-20770

United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit

December 14, 2001

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Appeal from the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division

Before KING, Chief Judge, BARKSDALE, Circuit Judge, and NOWLIN, District Judge.[*]

KING, Chief Judge:

In district court, Plaintiffs-Appellants asserted claims against Defendant-Appellee, the City of Houston, for overtime compensation pursuant to the Fair Labor Standards Act, and they now appeal from the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the City. The City cross-appeals from, among other things, the district court's award of attorney's fees in a related case that was consolidated with this case. For the following reasons, we REVERSE the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the City and REMAND for entry of judgment in favor of Plaintiffs-Appellants following a determination of the amount of overtime compensation owed by the City to Plaintiffs-Appellants. Further, we AFFIRM the district court's award of attorney's fees in the related case.

I. Factual and Procedural History

Plaintiffs-Appellants (the "Daley Plaintiffs") are paramedics and emergency medical technicians ("EMTs") (collectively the "EMS workers" or "EMS employees") employed by the City of Houston Fire Department. The Daley Plaintiffs are a subset of a group of approximately 2,600 fire department employees consisting of fire suppression,1 telemetry, dispatch, and arson

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investigation personnel (the "Vela Plaintiffs"). The Vela Plaintiffs filed suit against the City of Houston (the "City") in state court on October 25, 1995 claiming they were entitled to overtime pay under state law and under the Fair Labor Standards Act (the "FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. (1998). On October 17, 1997, the City removed the suit to the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas. The district court entered partial summary judgment in favor of the Vela Plaintiffs on September 24, 1998. The district court did not award any specific amounts for unpaid overtime at that time, but an Agreed Partial Summary Judgment, entered on May 28, 1999, awarded $5,489,590.62 to the telemetry, dispatch, and arson investigation personnel - i.e., all the Vela Plaintiffs except the fire suppression personnel. The fire suppression personnel (including the Daley Plaintiffs) were later paid $4,436,819.12 as a "settlement."2

On April 5, 1999, the Daley Plaintiffs filed a separate suit in the district court claiming they were not fire protection employees for purposes of the FLSA. On August 5, 1999, this suit was consolidated with the prior suit brought by the Vela Plaintiffs. The parties completed discovery with respect to the claims raised by the Daley Plaintiffs on November 30, 1999. The City and the Daley Plaintiffs then filed cross-summary judgment motions. In their summary judgment motion, the Daley Plaintiffs argued that as non-fire protection personnel, they are subject to the standard forty-hour workweek under § 207(a)(1) of the FLSA,3 and thus entitled to overtime compensation in addition to that awarded the Vela Plaintiffs under state law.4 The City countered in its summary judgment motion that, pursuant to § 207(k) of the FLSA,5 the Daley Plaintiffs are exempt from overtime compensation under the FLSA until they exceed an average

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of fifty-three hours of work in a week. See 29 C.F.R. § 553.201(a).6 Alternatively, the City argued that the Daley Plaintiffs are exempt from the general rule providing overtime compensation for hours worked in excess of the standard forty-hour workweek under either the Learned Professional exemption7 or the Executive/Administrative exemption.8

What the City has not argued bears mention. Although the City contests whether there was in fact a settlement with the Vela Plaintiffs, see infra Part V, conspicuously absent from the City's arguments in the district court and on appeal is an alternative argument that the amount paid by the City to the Vela Plaintiffs was intended to settle the Daley Plaintiffs' claim for overtime compensation under the FLSA. In response to a specific question at oral argument about the res judicata effect of any settlement on the Daley Plaintiffs' FLSA claim, the City acknowledged that any such argument had been waived.

The district court entered partial summary judgment in favor of the City on March 22, 2000, finding that the Daley Plaintiffs are fire protection employees under the FLSA and therefore not eligible for additional overtime under § 207(a)(1). Although the parties' motions for summary judgment address the Learned Professional and Executive/Administrative exemptions, the District Court's opinion was not required to, and did not, decide whether the Daley Plaintiffs fall within those exemptions. In this appeal, the Daley Plaintiffs request that this court vacate the district court's order granting summary judgment in favor of the City and render judgment in favor of the Daley Plaintiffs. The City cross-appeals from the district court's award of attorney's fees to the Vela Plaintiffs. In addition, the City cross-appeals three issues from the Vela Plaintiffs' case: (1) the district court's order directing the City to pay damages for wages between January 1, 1997 and May 28, 1997 to the fire suppression personnel; (2) the district court's conclusion that overtime for the fire suppression personnel should be calculated on an eighty-hour work cycle; and (3) the district court's conclusion that the City improperly worked dispatch and arson personnel on an eight-day work cycle.

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II. Summary Judgment Standard of Review

We review a grant of summary judgment de novo, applying the same standard as the district court. See Chaney v. New Orleans Pub. Facility Mgmt., Inc., 179 F.3d 164, 167 (5th Cir. 1999). Summary judgment is proper when "there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and [] the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c). While we view the evidence in a light most favorable to the non-movant, see Coleman v. Houston Indep. Sch. Dist., 113 F.3d 528, 533 (5th Cir. 1997), in order to avoid summary judgment, the non-movant must go beyond the pleadings and come forward with specific facts indicating a genuine issue for trial, see Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 324 (1986).

If the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the non-movant, there is a genuine issue of material fact. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). However, if the non-movant fails to present facts sufficient to support an essential element of his claim, summary judgment is appropriate. See Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23.

III. The Daley Plaintiffs' Claims for Overtime Compensation

A. The General Rule of the FLSA and its Exemptions

The FLSA establishes the general rule that all employees must receive overtime compensation for hours worked in excess of forty hours during a seven-day workweek.9 See 29 U.S.C. § 207(a)(1).10 Employees are entitled to overtime compensation according to the general rule unless their employer proves that one of the many exemptions applies. The City asserts that, as EMS workers, the Daley Plaintiffs are not entitled to overtime compensation under the general rule because they fall within three exemptions. First, employees of a public agency that are engaged in fire protection activities are exempt from the general rule (the "§ 207(k) exemption"). 29 U.S.C. § 207(k).11 To receive overtime compensation under the FLSA, fire protection employees must work more than 212 hours during a work period of 28 consecutive days, equivalent to an average of 53 hours per week. See 29 U.S.C. § 207(k); 29 C.F.R. § 553.201(a).12 As part of its argument that the Daley Plaintiffs fall within the § 207(k) exemption, the City asserts that § 203(y), a recently enacted statute that defines "employee in fire protection activities," applies retroactively to bar the Daley Plaintiffs' claims. See 29 U.S.C. § 203(y) (Supp. 2001). The second and third exemptions that the City relies on are the Learned Professional exemption and the Executive/Administrative exemption. We construe exemptions from the FLSA narrowly, see Blackmon v. Brookshire Grocery Co., 835 F.2d 1135, 1137 (5th Cir. 1988), and the employer has the burden to prove that the employee is exempt from the FLSA general rule, see Heidtman v.

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County of El Paso, 171 F.3d 1038, 1042 (5th Cir. 1999).

In this part of the opinion, we look first to the question whether the Daley Plaintiffs fall within the § 207(k) exemption as it existed at the time their claims accrued. We then turn to the question whether § 203(y) is retroactive. Next, we determine whether the Daley Plaintiffs fall within the Learned Professional and Executive/Administrative exemptions. Finally, we address the City's statute of limitations defense.

B. Do the Daley Plaintiffs Fall Within the § 207(k) Exemption?

The Daley Plaintiffs are employed by the City of Houston Fire Department and...

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