New York City will settle an overtime class action lawsuit with 4,300 police sergeants for $20 million. The city will also pay an as-yet undetermined amount in attorney’s fees. Mullins v. New York (S.D.N.Y. 2012).
The class of sergeants filed suit in 2004 alleging that they were improperly misclassified as exempt employees and due overtime compensation back to 2001. In April 2011, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that the sergeants should have been classified as nonexempt employees and paid overtime.
The city argued that the sergeants were primarily engaged in management duties, and were properly classified as executively exempt. The court, however, found that the sergeants spent significant time investigating crimes, determining whether probable cause existed to arrest a suspect, and making tactical decision at crime scenes. And because they are authorized to use certain restraining devices on suspects, sergeants were also often called to situations involving emotionally disturbed persons. The court relied on Fair Labor Standards Act regulations saying that sergeants primarily performing law enforcement work in the field did not qualify for the executive exemption. The city appealed, but the U.S. Supreme Court denied review of the decision and cleared the way for a trial on damages and back pay. The city negotiated this settlement rather than going to trial.
This decision does not mean that all police sergeants are automatically nonexempt. The primary duty of the sergeants must still be analyzed to determine if exempt status is appropriate.