Firefighters Lose Challenge To Incentive Pay System

The City of Shreveport, Louisiana adopted an incentive pay for emergency medical supervisors, bomb technicians, air rescue firefighters and hazardous materials technicians. The amounts of incentive pay ranged from $100 to $150 monthly.

Five firefighters challenged the incentive pay system, arguing that the plan violated the “equal protection” clause of the Louisiana Constitution. The firefighters also contended that the program violated a state statute providing that “equal recognition and compensation shall be received for equal performance of duty and responsibility.”

The Louisiana Court of Appeals rejected the firefighters’ arguments. As to the state statutes on firefighter compensation, the Court found that the purpose of the statutes was “to provide uniform standards for the minimum wages and working conditions of firefighters. Nothing in the statutes requires that all firefighters within one of these categories be paid the same. The firefighters receiving incentive pay receive higher pay for certain certifications, and when those skills are put to use.”

As to the firefighters’ constitutional arguments, the Court reasoned that the constitution “commands the courts to decline enforcement of laws classifying individuals in three situations: (1) When the law classifies individuals by race or religious belief, the law shall be repudiated completely; (2) when the law classifies individuals on the basis of birth, age, sex, culture, physical condition, or political ideas or affiliations, its enforcement shall be refused unless the state or other advocate of the classification shows that the classification has a reasonable basis; and (3) when the law classifies individuals on any other basis, it shall be rejected when any member of a disadvantaged class shows that it does not suitably further any appropriate state interest. The City’s incentive pay plan does not classify the firefighters based on race, religion, birth, age, sex, culture, physical condition, or political ideas or affiliations. The incentive pay plan classifies the firefighters based on educational certification and employment roles. Therefore, the only way the City’s incentive pay plan may be rejected is if a disadvantaged individual shows that it does not suitably further any appropriate interest of the City.

“The City has clearly shown that the classification suitably furthers an appropriate interest. One of the highest interests any government has, local government in particular, is the interest of protecting its citizens from harm. The fire department is set up to do just that. It protects citizens from fire damage, bomb threats, hazardous material spills, etc. To better provide these services, the City has provided incentives for firefighters to be better trained for the lifesaving and property-protecting services they provide.”

Morgan v. City of Shreveport, 2011 WL 2698188 (La. App. 2011).

This article appears in the September 2011 issue