Written by D.F. Karppi Friday, 30 September 2011 00:00
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced on Sept. 20, that the Oyster Bay Fire Department has agreed to settle a class age discrimination lawsuit brought by them. The OBFD No. 1; the Atlantic Fire Company No. 1; the Town of Oyster Bay; and the villages of Oyster Bay Cove; Laurel Hollow; Mill Neck and Cove Neck – that they serve – will pay at least 31 firefighters lost pension money totaling $279,600 and provide increased monthly pension amounts going forward to several firefighters – with $20 a year added for active service – to a cap of $800 a month in pension funds.
The change is because there was a cut off at age 62 and firefighters couldn’t accrue over that age. “We have members over that age and they are still doing active duty,” said Atlantic Steamer Fire Chief Ty Jimenez. There is no actual retirement age.
This type of suit has happened and been settled favorably before, in Bayville and in other areas of New York State. The EEOC’s suit had alleged that the defendants refused to let volunteer firefighters over age 62 accrue credit toward a “length of service award” (LOSAP), the equivalent of a retirement pension, because of their age. As a result, senior firefighters lost pension amounts after they turned 62, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), a federal law that protects workers age 40 and older from age discrimination. The EEOC filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York, Civ. No 09-3297, after first attempting to reach a prelitigation settlement through its conciliation process.
“The system in effect penalized older firefighters because of their age, and that was simply illegal,” said EEOC Regional Attorney Elizabeth Grossman. “We welcome the decision to settle this case in a way that ensures that these brave firefighters, who do heroic work, do not receive different retirement benefits simply because of their age.”
Sunu P. Chandy, EEOC trail attorney in New York added, “This case should remind all employers, including municipal employers, that federal law prohibits targeting older workers for discriminiatory treatment, including in relation to pensions or retirement benefits.” The EEOC enforces federal laws banning workplace discrimination.
Town Councilman Anthony D. Macagnone recently attended the Atlantic Steamer Fire Company No. 1 Celebration of 50 Years of Service for Frank Maiorana Sr. and Ex-Chief Richard Niznik. The celebration took place at the Atlantic Steamer Headquarters in Oyster Bay.
“They are both active in the department,” Atlantic Steamer Fire Chief Ty Jiminez said. “Very much so.”
At the same time, Councilman Macagnone was sworn in as an honorary company member by Raymond Hornosky, who is a 61-year-member himself of the Atlantic Steamer Fire Company.
“Members stay in the department for a long time. We have a point system they have to abide by, but it is a graduated scale. The longer you serve, the less you do – [in terms of physical activity and coming in harm’s way]. There are three classes, A,B and C, based on abilities and what you are able to do on a day-to-day basis. Class A is the interior firefighting, they are going into buildings. The Class B members are working on the fireground but not going into the building. Class C are doing desk work and handling traffic, but not getting into harm’s way in a fireground. But they help with car accidents and protecting the perimeter on a fireground – to be sure people should not be where they are not supposed to go.” On the increased pension amounts to be paid, there is a cap to the total benefit of $800 a month that retirees achieve. They accrue $20 a month for every year active – with that cap of $800.
Chief Jimenez said, “I’m happy it is over. It’s been a long time. We’ve been talking about it for close to five years. We wanted to put it behind us as quickly as possible, but there are so many working parts of the law – it didn’t happen as fast as I and other people would have liked, but I am happy it is a closed book.”
The lawsuit and the recent pressure put on the district by the villages to join as one group was part of the scenario, but the suit has changed some issues to benefit the villages.
Mr. Jimenez said, “We used to contract with the villages yearly. As part of the settlement the town has more representation on the new fire board formed with the villages and the town – with the town having more weight because it handles more of the contract cost. We will be now renewing contracts every five years. The thought is that the villages can budget their costs better rather than having yearly surprises or going through the exercise yearly.”
As for the perceived benefits of incorporating the two companies into one, Chief Jimenez said, “We are still open to working with OB Company No. 1 on ways to cut costs and save money. We are willing to work with them to see how we can save the district money.”
It should be mentioned that Chief Jimenez, as the other volunteer firefighters, serve without pay. That includes going out to help in hurricanes or during snowstorms or power outages, when their families may need their help too. Being a firefighter means taking on a 24/7, job 365 days a year.