The Selden Fire District has agreed to pay $263,360 to settle a federal age-discrimination lawsuit brought on behalf of 23 volunteers denied pension credit for service after they turned 55, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission announced Friday.
The settlement is at least the fifth time in less than three years that Long Island fire departments or districts have struck deals over similar complaints filed by the EEOC. "Older workers, like these firefighters, should not be deprived of valuable pension benefits simply because of their age," Jacqueline A. Berrien, chairwoman of the EEOC, said in news release. "This settlement ensures that these highly valued public servants will finally receive fair compensation."
Each of the 23 Selden volunteers or their survivors will receive a payment from as little as $720 to as much as $25,200, according the consent decree U.S. District Court Judge Denis R. Hurley approved on April 16. Some of them have died since the class-action lawsuit was filed on Sept. 29, 2009, according to court papers.
Under the state's Length of Service Awards program, 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 violates the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, meant to protect workers 40 and older from age discrimination, the EEOC said. Pensions are a form of compensation and therefore volunteer firefighters are considered workers, the EEOC said.