Age discrimination suit filed against local fire departments

An age discrimination lawsuit was filed in Federal court Tuesday against four local fire departments. According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), fire departments for North Syracuse, Cicero, Clay and Moyers Corners are named in the suit, along with the towns of Cicero and Clay and the Village of North Syracuse.

Town of Clay (WSYR-TV) -- An age discrimination lawsuit was filed in Federal court Tuesday naming the Towns of Cicero and Clay and the Village of North Syracuse, as well as four of their fire departments.

The case draws back to an incentive program created by New York State lawmakers in 1989, to offer volunteer firefighters a retirement credit based on years of service. Initially, volunteers stopped accruing credits at a department's designated retirement age, between 55-65, even if they kept working. The state amended the law in 2003, allowing firefighters who continued working to continue earning credits.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the complaint involves approximately 20 firefighters who stopped earning the pension credit before the state amended the law.

Moyers Corners Volunteer Fire Chief Edward Wisnowski said the Town of Clay was prepared to recognize lost time for it's members.

"Nothing has been refused. We've supplied all the information. They are still active members. They are accruing those points and they should be given what they're due," Wisnowski said.

The chief says he was shocked to hear the case had moved forward, naming his department, after an attorney with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission insisted they'd exhausted all efforts to make a deal.

"We've been trying to settle this case for almost three years now. We had conversations with the various parties. We have not been able to settle the case and this is the step we felt we needed to take," explained EEOC Senior Trial Attorney Michael O'Brien.

Town of Clay Supervisor Damian Ulatowski echos Chief Wisnowski's concerns, and says his office extended offers for a settlement months ago.

"We didn't refuse anything. When it was brought to our attention, we agreed to it and we agreed to a settlement of exactly what they were entitled to and set aside money to pay it," Ulatowski told Newschannel 9.

If the town still hopes to pursue a settlement to spare taxpayers from an expensive trial, EEOC Attorney Michael O'Brien suggests it is too late.

"We're hopeful this gets resolved in federal court," O'Brien said. "We're not interested in settling outside of court."

Officials with the EEOC claim the volunteers cannot be denied the benefits under provisions of the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, which is the basis of the suit against the seven parties named.

But, Ulatowski reiterates that his office had set aside money to credit the affected firefighters.

"They knew. The EEOC knew that we agreed to do this. That's what surprises me. They are going after us now? Why? For a headline? That is absolutely absurd, absolutely absurd," said Clay Town Supervisor Damian Ulatowski.

The fire chief, a volunteer and taxpayer in Clay, says his department will prepare for what he believes is an unnecessary court battle.

"An egregious spending of taxpayer money that is just, it's uncalled for," said Wisnowski.

O'Brien said a telephone conference regarding the case had been scheduled for mid-December.

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