Long Island Fire District Had Barred Firefighters Over 65 from Receiving Service Credits in Retirement Benefits Program, EEOC Charged
NEW YORK – The Eaton’s Neck Fire District on Long Island will pay $213,840 to settle a class age discrimination lawsuit brought by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the agency announced today. The damages will be made in retroactive payments to a group of 15 firefighters who had been discriminated against based on their age and provide increased monthly pension amounts going forward to several firefighters.
The EEOC’s suit had alleged that the Fire District refused to let volunteer firefighters over age 65 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 65, 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, Civ. No. 08-5089, after first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement.
Eaton’s Neck is located in Western Suffolk County, on the North Shore of Long Island, New York.
“This fire department’s system in effect penalized older firefighters because of their age, and that was simply illegal,” said EEOC Acting Chairman Stuart J. Ishimaru. “We welcome the fire district’s 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.”
Spencer H. Lewis, Jr., the EEOC’s district director in New York, said, “This case should remind all employers that federal law prohibits targeting older workers for discriminatory treatment, including in relation to pensions or retirement benefits.”
Peter Farrell, who passed away in September 2008, filed the initial EEOC charge. His widow, Bernadette Farrell, said from her home in Olympia, Wash., “My husband brought this EEOC charge because he felt as though the older firefighters were not being given the compensation they deserved and that they were being overlooked based on their age. He felt justified in bringing his matter forward and he was looking forward to having it settled for the benefit of everyone in a fair manner. We are pleased that Peter’s efforts led to this resolution for all of the affected firefighters and their families. I know Peter would have been sincerely pleased with this equitable outcome.”
EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Sunu P. Chandy added, “It is honorable when people like Peter Farrell have the courage to pursue their civil rights, both in terms of standing up for their own dignity and furthering the cause of justice on behalf of their colleagues. The EEOC appreciates people like Mr. Farrell who bring these kinds of issues forward to our agency’s attention so that the federal government can vigorously pursue these matters in the benefit of the public interest.”
The EEOC enforces federal laws banning workplace discrimination. Further information about the agency is available at www.eeoc.gov.