Police Chief Still an Executive Under FLSA Even While Walking the Beat, Says VT Superior Court

A former police chief in Vermont was correctly classified as exempt under the Fair Labor Standards Act’s executive exemption — despite the fact that he frequently had to perform patrol work — because the bulk of his duties were still considered managerial, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled Aug. 10.

In spite of his status as a “working chief,” the court ruled that the police chief was not entitled to overtime pay for hours worked beyond his regular schedule because he was a bona fide executive under federal FLSA provisions.

In the lawsuit, Turnley v. Town of Vernon (Vt., No. 2011-351), a former police chief sued the town he worked for under the FLSA seeking compensation for allegedly unpaid overtime hours. The chief claimed he was due overtime because the town selectboard interfered with his management of the police department and prevented him from hiring the additional help needed for the short-staffed department. As a result, he allegedly worked as much as 1,335 hours of overtime over a period of a few years.

In response the town of Vernon argued that Turnley was an exempt executive, and moved for a summary judgment. Turnley responded that his primary duty was not managerial because of the selectboard’s actions. He was actually a “first responder,” and therefore was entitled to overtime pay. The trial court granted the town’s motion, and the Vermont Supreme Court affirmed the decision.

According to the court, Turnley was exempt under the FLSA both because his salary met the executive employee requirements and he regularly supervised three to five employees. Among other provisions the FLSA exempts executives who are compensated at least $455 per week and who direct the work of two or more other employees.

Additionally, the court found that the fact that Turnley was sometimes required to perform patrol activities did not change his status, but concluded instead it was “unsurprising that the Chief of Police [sic] in a small, rural town would sometimes take on certain of the tasks of the line officer.”

For more about this case and additional information about specific FLSA provisions for police officers see Thompson’s HR compliance library, including the Fair Labor Standards Handbook for States, Local Governments and Schools.