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New York municipalities and fire departments settle class age bias lawsuit over volunteer firefighters pension benefits

The Village of North Syracuse, the Town of Cicero and the Town of Clay have agreed to settle a class age discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced on April 2. Those localities, as well as the North Syracuse Fire Department, the Cicero Fire Department, the Clay Volunteer Fire Department, the Moyers Corner Fire Department, and the Cicero Fire District, will pay a group of firefighters lost pension benefits as well as provide several firefighters increased future monthly pension amounts.

The EEOC’s suit had charged that from the early 1990s through the late 2000s, the eight defendants had refused to let volunteer firefighters accrue credit toward a “length of service award program” (LOSAP), the equivalent of a retirement pension, because of their age, either 60 or 62 depending on the fire department. As a result, senior firefighters lost pension amounts, in violation of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). Although North Syracuse, Cicero, and Clay had amended the LOSAPs to allow firefighters to earn credit without regard to age, the amendment did not provide for lost benefits. The EEOC filed suit (no. 12-cv-1265) after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement.

Under the terms of the agreement, North Syracuse, Clay, Cicero, and the Fire District have agreed to provide the EEOC with contact information for affected firefighters, and the EEOC will contact the firefighters to ascertain lost pension amounts. U.S. Magistrate Judge Therese Wiley Dancks in Syracuse will oversee the process.

“The brave men and women who volunteered to fight fires deserve to be treated equally, without regard to age,” said EEOC Trial Attorney Michael J. O’Brien. “We welcome the decision to settle this case in a way that ensures that these firefighters, who do heroic work, do not receive different retirement benefits simply because of their age.”

Elizabeth Grossman, the EEOC’s regional attorney in New York, added, “This case should remind all employers, including municipalities, that federal law prohibits targeting older workers for discriminatory treatment, including in relation to pensions or retirement benefits.”