City settles lawsuit for $110,000

GLOVERSVILLE — The Common Council on Tuesday approved a settlement agreement ending a civil lawsuit filed against the city by three retired firefighters seeking overtime pay. Under the agreement, the city will pay a total settlement fee of $110,000.

The complaint against the city was filed in the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of New York in 2019 by the Tuttle Law Firm on behalf of James Anderson, Robert Davis and David Rackmyre who sought to recover what they claimed was unpaid overtime compensation and other relief as provided for under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

All three men were city firefighters who retired from the department in 2018. The former fighters brough the civil action against the city claiming that upon each of their retirements, the city should have paid out any remaining compensatory time off they had each accrued from working overtime and that the payouts should have been made at one and a half times their regular hourly rates.

Under the collective bargaining agreement between the city and the firefighters union, firefighters working in excess of 53 hours per week or while devoting hours to training, public awareness and related duties are provided compensatory time off.

The agreement further allows for that compensatory time off to be accumulated and if not used, to be paid out in cash when the firefighter ceases employment at the rate of pay in effect on the date when employment was ended. The agreement caps redeemable compensatory time upon retirement at 100 hours.

The civil lawsuit notes that Anderson, Davis and Rackmyre each received compensatory time off for working in excess of 53 hours per week, but at their straight pay rate rather than time-and-a-half. The suit claims that failure by the city to pay the compensatory time at overtime rates is a violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The suit states that each of the men retired with more than 100 hours of accumulated compensatory time. Rackmyre was paid for 100 hours of compensatory time upon his retirement but at his straight pay rate. Anderson and Davis had not been paid for any of their accumulated compensatory time when the action was filed.

The suit requested that the accumulated compensatory time to be recalculated and paid out to each of the plaintiffs at their time-and-a-half rates. An additional amount for damages, attorneys’ fees and other costs associated with the legal action was further requested.

The city, represented by labor attorney Bryan Goldberger, reached a settlement agreement with the complainants through mediation before Federal Magistrate Judge Therese Wiley Dancks on Sept. 3. Under the agreement, the city agreed to pay a stipulated settlement totaling $110,000 to resolve the complaint in full.

U.S. District Judge Thomas McAvoy subsequently signed an order of dismissal to discontinue the lawsuit in its entirety without costs. The order provided either party the right to reopen the action within 30 days if the settlement was not completed.

A resolution adopted by the Common Council on Tuesday ratifying and approving the settlement agreement between the city and the plaintiffs, states that the city as defendant appeared in the action, “denying the material allegations in the complaint and asserting certain affirmative defenses.” The legislation goes on to state that the agreement resolves the litigation.

The council additionally approved a budget modification to move $100,000 from the city’s contingency fund to the judgements and claims budget to pay out the stipulated settlement. The judgments and claims budget already contained $10,000.

Goldberger on Tuesday explained that it was recommended that the city accept the settlement agreement due in part to the costs associated with litigation, pointing to the settlement as an opportunity for the city to resolve the matter completely.

“These cases become problematic, they become costly to litigate,” said Goldberger. “There are various provisions in the Fair Labors Standards Act that drive potential costs in these cases. Whether you feel that you are correct or not, you still have the expense of litigation. And there was an opportunity where the parties were able to come to a mutually acceptable agreement and we achieved it.”

By Patricia Older