Updated 09/26/2012 07:51 PM
Municipalities say lawsuit took them by surprise
"Length of service award" payments, or LOSAP, are pension-like funds volunteer firefighters can collect once they reach a certain age. That's the source of contention in a lawsuit from a federal agency that names three local municipalities and their fire departments. As YNN's Sarah Blazonis tells us, local leaders thought they were close to a solution, until this week.
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ONONDAGA COUNTY, N.Y. -- Four years ago, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alerted the Village of North Syracuse and Towns of Clay and Cicero that they were violating an age discrimination law by not letting firefighters build up LOSAP credits past ages 60 or 62. Officials say they were following state law at the time, which is trumped by federal anti-discrimination laws.
"We looked at it and said, 'Yeah, you're right. So let's figure this thing out," said North Syracuse Mayor Mark Atkinson.
Officials say they thought they were close to a settlement until the EEOC announced this week they and their fire departments were named in an age discrimination suit.
"Caught us all by surprise, because the last communication we had with them on July 2 was that yeah, everything looks good. The paperwork will be coming up to you and you can sign it, put this thing behind us," said Mayor Atkinson.
A lawyer for the EEOC says the village and towns involved in the lawsuit calculated how many firefighters were owed compensation and the amount they were due. Those numbers are an issue in the lawsuit.
"Whether or not the claim that the village and towns have identified all of the firefighters affected by the practices and whether or not they calculated the damages correctly and that's, I think, one of the issues that led to the filing of this lawsuit," said Michael O'Brien, a senior trial lawyer for the EEOC.
The EEOC says one remedy could be reaching out to those possibly affected.
"We attempt to ascertain who was a volunteer firefighter in the time periods and reach out to find whether or not they claimed damages," said O'Brien.
Mayor Atkinson says he was unaware the numbers were in question and believes the same paperwork will be resubmitted.
And while lawyers for EEOC expressed hope the suit would end the four year struggle, Atkinson says he worries more taxpayer dollars will be spent needlessly.