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Mineola, fire department settle age discrimination suit

The Village of Mineola and its fire department have agreed to pay $237,072 to settle a federal age-discrimination lawsuit brought on behalf of 25 volunteers denied pension credit for service after they turned 60.

The latest settlement is the fourth time in less than three years that Long Island fire departments or districts have struck deals over similar complaints the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed on behalf of volunteers.

"We have brought a number of lawsuits against individual fire departments. We are pleased all of them have settled," said Elizabeth Grossman, attorney for the EEOC.

Each of the 25 from the Mineola Fire Department will receive a lump-sum payment ranging from as high as $41,040 to as low as $403.30, according the consent decree U.S. District Court Judge Sandra Feuerstein approved Wednesday.

The 25 volunteer firefighters in the class-action lawsuit were in their 60s and 70s, Grossman said. She said 10 of the 25 had died since the lawsuit was filed in October 2007.

There are 160 active volunteers serving 19,108 residents living in the Village of Mineola.

Under New York State's Length of Service Awards program, known as LOSAP, firefighters with at least five years' service are entitled to a monthly stipend of up to $30 for each year they are active, up to 40 years. Volunteers start receiving the benefit at an "entitlement age" agreed on by voters in their district, which can be as early as 55. But under the awards program, volunteer firefighters no longer could accrue new pension credit once they reached entitlement age.

That practice, the EEOC said, violates the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, meant to protect workers 40 and older from age discrimination. Pensions, the EEOC said, are a form of compensation and therefore volunteer firefighters are considered workers.

Under the Mineola settlement, a volunteer firefighter who wants to receive pension-like benefits at age 60 will be able to accrue additional pension credit but at a lower rate, said John Spellman, attorney for the village, which oversees the fire department.

That way, the settlement's structure, Spellman said, would not overly burden village taxpayers. "If we did not settle, our exposure over the next 10 years would be in excess of a million," Spellman said.

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