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Lawsuit filed after volunteer lifeguard lockout in Jacksonville Beach

The lawsuit, filed Thursday, is seeking damages and declaratory relief for an amount in excess of $30,000.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — The Volunteer Life Saving Corps is suing the City of Jacksonville Beach for allegedly breaching contract by locking them out of the lifeguard station.

This comes after a labor law related issue led to an alleged breach of contract by the city.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday, is seeking damages and declaratory relief for an amount in excess of $30,000.

The details surrounding the back-and-forth have been a bit confusing for many residents, so let's clear it up for you.

For more than 100 years, the Volunteer Life Saving Corps (VLSC) has volunteered to assist the City of Jacksonville Beach with lifeguard duties each Sunday and on holidays. 

However, in 2021 the US Department of Labor found that the volunteer services violated the Fair Labor Standards Act.

The city says that it gave the volunteers a 9-month notice that their services would be terminated, however, the City of Jacksonville Beach sent a notice to the volunteers that their service would be terminated immediately due to "disruptive behavior" on Sunday, April 3.

Tim Saggau, President of the Board of Directors for VLSC, explains that the organization was in contact with the lifeguards at the station to coordinate their use of space for a graduation of some new recruits.

Saggau says the graduation was taking place on the bulkhead in front of the Lifeguard station while, simultaneously, a training was happening inside the building.

He says that a letter sent to VLSC from the city claimed the graduation event was disruptive and that people in attendance were bothering the guards.

Saggau says he was there that day and that simply wasn't the case.

"And all of a sudden, we're being shut out of our building," Saggau added.

The volunteers sent a letter to the city that disputed the city’s claims. The letter from the volunteers threatened legal action against the city of Jacksonville Beach if they were prevented from entering the Red Cross station at Jacksonville Beach.

The lawsuit was filed Thursday. To the board president, he believes the city managers are painting the VLSC as unprofessional and uncooperative. 

"We felt filing a lawsuit was all we could do," Saggau told First Coast News.

He says the damages in excess of $30,000 that the suit is seeking is for the whole debacle's impact on recruitment of new members, equipment at the station that's ownership has been drawn into question and damaging claims.

He says the VLSC is still willing to sit down with the city to negotiate terms, but that the city has expressed zero interest in doing so.

"The council - in my opinion - should get more involved in this," Saggau said. "They've been reluctant to say 'Hey, city manager, city attorney, maybe we shouldn't do it like this',"

Saggau is urging the community to attend the City of Jacksonville Beach Council Meeting on Monday at 6 p.m. Comments are expected to be made by both the city and members of the VLSC.

The City of Jacksonville Beach gave this statement Friday in relation to the lawsuit.

"The City of Jacksonville Beach is aware of and saddened by the lawsuit brought against it by the Volunteer Lifesaving Corps. 

Jacksonville Beach citizens can rest assured that notwithstanding VLSC’s action against the City, the City will continue to provide uninterrupted lifesaving services to all of the citizens and visitors who enjoy its beaches year-round. 

The City is required by Federal law to change its existing relationship with the Corps because of a ruling by the Department of Labor that prohibits current employees from volunteering with the Corps, as had been done in the past.

 That DOL ruling resulted in the City paying employees and Corps volunteers $250,000 in back wages. The City hopes to honor the traditions of the Corps while also complying with Federal law and ensuring beachgoers receive the same high level of lifeguard services they know and expect."

As of right now, the City of Jacksonville Beach plans to expand its Ocean Rescue Division to include Sundays and holidays that were previously covered by the volunteers.

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