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EEOC: Suffolk violated disabled correction officers' rights

Suffolk County discriminated against 24 disabled correction officers by barring them from collecting raises after they were forced to retire before their union contract was settled, according to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Kevin Berry, district director in Manhattan, ruled that the county violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

"The investigation found that respondent discriminated against disabled corrections officers because of their disabilities, which caused them no longer to be employed at the time the contract was settled," he said.

Berry referred the disabled correction officers' case to the Department of Justice last month to determine if their lawyers will sue on the correction officers' behalf. The referral comes after the county refused to enter a conciliation process to eliminate the alleged unlawful employment practice.

The dispute arises out of an arbitration award issued March 3, 2009, that barred individuals no longer employed on the date of the settlement from receiving retroactive pay for service they provided during 2004-2005. Those involved in the case estimate that the overall damages total about $140,000 from lost raises, ranging from $500 to $3,000, and long term impact on pension benefits.

County attorney Dennis Cohen said the county declined to enter talks because "under the law they were not discriminated against."

He said the disabled officers were treated no differently than others who resigned or retired from the job and were not on the payroll when the settlement was reached. He said that the county was upheld by the federal commission in a related case brought by 30 former correction officers who retired and claimed age discrimination.

"To have their claims upheld as a class, they would have to show that they were treated differently because they were disabled," he said, "They were not treated any differently because of their disability from others who were no longer active employees."

Despite county claims to the contrary, Berry found that disabled officers did not act voluntarily but were forced to retire. He also found the county made a subsequent agreement with correction officers union to make payments to the families of those who died before the settlement was reached."It had the ability to provide retroactive pay to . . . disabled officers but chose not do so," Berry rules.

John Ledogar, one of three former officers who brought the complaint, called the county's stand a "terrible injustice" because it never blocked employees in the past from getting retro pay.

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