Wake Co. EMS failed to pay overtime. Now taxpayers are on the hook for nearly $400K
Wake County is paying nearly $400,000 to settle a federal, collective action lawsuit filed by emergency medical services (EMS) workers who claimed they were owed overtime money.
The original plaintiff in the case, Steven Gorrell, filed his lawsuit in March of 2021. After a federal judge moved the case to a class-action lawsuit, approximately 120 other plaintiffs joined the case against the county.
The plaintiffs said the county had a time-sheet policy where a worker who, for example, started a shift on Friday night but got off on Saturday morning had to put all of the hours worked on Friday. In the long run, the plaintiffs say that practice cost them overtime pay. With the settlement, the county agreed.
According to the lawsuit, the county's internal audit director estimated the overtime due to each of the plaintiffs. In total, those workers will get their fair share of approximately $145,000. They also share another pot of money in liquidated damages. Gorrell will also receive $7,500 for initiating the lawsuit.
"There was a group of us that questioned how we were getting paid, and the way we were getting paid just did not seem accurate with the hours that we were working on specific days," Gorrell told WRAL Investigates. "It's very satisfying knowing that so many of us were able to come together and have a successful outcome and we’re finally getting the pay that we worked for."
Gorrell brought his concerns to Wake County leaders when he noticed something wasn't right. Within a couple of months, the county changed how it calculated hours worked in a week, but Gorrell still pursued a lawsuit to receive the back pay.
Wake County says it will also award back pay to employees in a similar situation who did not join the lawsuit.
The rest of the settlement will go to the plaintiffs’ attorneys, including $74,339 in fees and another $6,636 in costs. Attorney Ryan Oxendine hopes the settlement sends a message.
"Hopefully this result will make public entities pay their employees fairly," he said.
In a statement to WRAL Investigates, Wake County Manager David Ellis said:
"Wake County discovered an error regarding overtime pay, and upon discovering the error, we took immediate action to correct it.
A lawsuit was filed on behalf of some EMS employees after the county made changes to payroll procedures to correct the error. The lawsuit was settled consistent with the county's plan of correction, and the county can now pay the money owed to all affected Wake EMS employees, even those who were not a part of the lawsuit. All affected employees will be made whole.
This was an internal error. It was not intentional or willful. The county has made changes in the way overtime is calculated and paid to ensure this will not happen again. The county is proud of the hard work and dedication of all of its employees and did not hesitate to make all affected employees whole."