By Daniel Wiessner
NEW YORK, Nov 19 (Reuters) - A federal judge has approved a
$20 million settlement between New York City and thousands of
police sergeants who claimed the city illegally withheld
Under the pact, approved by U.S. District Judge Shira
Scheindlin, 4,302 officers will receive $14 million in back pay
and $6 million in damages. Each sergeant's award will vary
depending on his or her length of service.
The Nov. 15 settlement comes a year after the 2nd Circuit
Court of Appeals reversed a jury finding that the sergeants were
not entitled to overtime under the federal Fair Labor Standards
The statute entitles non-management employees to overtime
pay when they work more than 40 hours in a work week.
"Executive" employees whose primary job function is management
are exempted from the overtime rules.
Stephen Younger, who represented the sergeants, said it is
the first case in which a federal court has found that police
sergeants are not exempt from the overtime law.
"In addition to the payout they will receive, (the
sergeants) are protected by federal law going forward," said
Younger, of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler.
Since at least 2001, the city has not paid sergeants for
overtime work, claiming their primary job duties included a key
management component. In the field, only sergeants can use
certain equipment, such as tasers, and they oversee crime scene
operations if they are the highest-ranked officers present,
according to court filings from the city.
In 2004, the sergeants challenged the city, seeking unpaid
overtime wages dating back to April 2001. They argued that their
work on the front lines trumped their management duties under
the federal labor law.
Four months later, the plaintiffs' case got a boost from the
U.S. Department of Labor, which adopted a revised interpretation
of the Fair Labor Standards Act so that first responders,
including police officers, fire fighters and rescue workers,
would be entitled to overtime pay.
In 2009, Scheindlin dismissed the sergeants' motion for
summary judgment, and a jury found in favor of the city.
The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals last year reversed. The
court held that the sergeants' supervision of junior officers
did not make them "management" under the labor law, and said
their role as first responders to crime scenes qualified them
for overtime pay.
In August, the city and police reached the $20 million
settlement and sent it to Scheindlin for her approval.
About 2,700 NYPD sergeants are making nearly identical
claims in a separate suit, McInnis v. City of New York, in
Manhattan federal court. Younger, who is not representing those
plaintiffs, said the case was delayed pending the outcome of
In a statement, senior counsel Diana Voight of the New York
City Law Department said the settlement "is in the city's best
The case is Edward Mullins v. City of New York, U.S. Court
of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, No. 09-3435.
For the plaintiffs: Stephen Younger, Catherine Williams and
A. Leah Vickers of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler.
For the city: Assistant Corporation Counsel Karen Griffin.
(Additional reporting by Jessica Dye)
Follow us on Twitter @ReutersLegal | Like us on Facebook