The Supreme Court Monday let stand a ruling that requires Chicago to provide overtime pay for its fire department paramedics, despite a warning the action could affect city treasuries nationwide.
The court, without comment, turned away the city's argument that federal law does not require it to provide such overtime pay for paramedics.In other actions Monday, the justices:
-Ruled that the government must pay disability benefits to veterans injured by treatment at veterans' hospitals even if the hospital was not at fault.
-Turned down appeals from pro-life activists who say they wrongly are being sued as racketeers for blocking access to clinics and other efforts to stop women from having abortions.
-Ruled that states may tax some of the income people receive from mutual funds that invest solely in U.S. government securities. The decision affects income earned on U.S. government securities that mutual funds buy through "repurchase agreements."
-Let stand the marijuana-growing conviction and five-year prison sentence of a St. Louis man who said police searched his home illegally because they used a high-tech, heat-measuring device without out getting a court warrant.
In the Chicago case, paramedics challenged the city's claim they were exempt from overtime by a provision that also exempts firefighters.
A landmark 1985 Supreme Court decision said Congress has almost unlimited power to force state and local governments to comply with the Federal Fair Labor Standards Act, which sets minimum wage and overtime requirements.
The law generally requires all employers - private and public - to provide overtime pay for those employees who work more than 40 hours in a week. But since 1974, Congress has allowed an exemption for government employees engaged in "fire protection" and "law enforcement."
The exemption allows state and local governments to depart from the conventional 40-hour work week for calculating overtime pay for some employees. For those in fire prevention, federal law lets government agencies avoid paying overtime as long as employees do not work more than 136 hours, or 53 hours per week, over an 18-day cycle.
The Chicago Fire Department puts its firefighters and paramedics on a schedule consisting of 24 hours on duty followed by 48 hours off, with every fifth workday off. The schedule amounts to 120 hours of duty in an 18-day cycle.
Paramedics sued, contending they, unlike firefighters, should get overtime pay when working more than 40 hours in any week.
Their lawsuit noted that paramedics, although receiving the same salaries and benefits as firefighters, are not trained or expected to enter burning buildings or smoke-filled areas. Chicago paramedics, like those elsewhere, must remain in areas removed from fire scenes and do not treat victims until they have been evacuated from the immediate vicinity of a fire.
A federal trial judge and the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said paramedics could not be treated the same as firefighters regarding overtime pay.