Louisiana Fire Department Cannot Base Wage Differentials On Less Than Minimum Wage

A Louisiana statute sets forth the minimum salaries to be paid to each rank of firefighters. The higher ranking firefighters’ salaries are calculated as a specified percentage above the minimum monthly salary of an entry level “fireman,” the lowest designated firefighter. An engineer receives a minimum monthly salary of not less than 10% above that of a fireman, while an assistant or deputy chief not less than 50%.

The City of West Monroe paid a starting salary to firefighters of $1,500, plus “supplemental pay” of $300. In calculating the rank differentials, the City based its percentage differentials for higher ranking firefighters only upon the first year fireman’s base pay of $1,500 per month. Without the $300 supplement, the first year fireman’s pay would not meet the applicable minimum wage required by the Fair Labor Standards Act.

A group of current and retired firefighters sued the City, contending that the practice of not including the “supplemental pay” in the wage differential calculations violated state law. The Louisiana Court of Appeals agreed, and ruled in the firefighters’ favor.

The Court found that “the City may not base the minimum monthly salary of first year firefighters for purposes of the state statue on an amount that does not meet the applicable minimum wage requirements of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The City of West Monroe pays its first-year firemen $1,800 per month for the first 12 months of their employment. Notwithstanding the fact that $1,500 of this is considered by the City to be base pay, this amount, broken down into an hourly rate, does not comply with the federal minimum wage law. Therefore, the City supplements the beginning fireman’s monthly salary by paying the first-year firemen a City supplement of $300 per month, which is discontinued at the completion of a fireman’s first year of employment (at which time state supplemental pay of $500 per month kicks in).

“The economic concept of monthly salary in state law contemplates regular compensation paid monthly over an extended period of time. In the instant case, the City of West Monroe pays its first-year firemen a monthly salary of $1,800. The trial court correctly held that it is this amount that is to be used by the City as the amount upon which the percentage differentials to be paid to higher ranking firefighters should be based.”

West Monroe Firefighters Local 1385 v. City of West Monroe, 2012 WL 3104241 (La. App. 2012).