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PRESS RELEASE
3-31-11

EEOC Sues Town Of Clarence And Fire Companies For Age Discrimination

Federal Agency Lawsuit Charges Retirement System Penalized Older Firefighters

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Volunteer fire companies in the Town of Clarence, N.Y. violated federal law by preventing older firefighters from accruing service credits because of their age, the U.S. Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) charged in a lawsuit filed today.

The EEOC’s suit alleged that between 1992 and 2006, four fire companies for the Town of Clarence unlawfully prohibited volunteer firefighters, once they reached a certain age, from accruing service award credits toward their “length of service award programs” (LOSAPs), the equivalent of a retirement pension. The Clarence Center, East Amherst, Harris Hill and Swormville fire companies cut off service credit at age 62 (in 2002 East Amherst reduced that age to 55). As a result, firefighters who continued to work past that age lost pension amounts. The EEOC argues that this violates the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), a federal law that protects workers age 40 and older from age discrimination.

Although the fire companies amended their respective LOSAPs in January 2006 to allow firefighters to earn service credits regardless of age, the companies did not retroactively award credits to or increase pension amounts for firefighters who were denied credit from 1992 until 2006. After first attempting to reach a pre-litigation settlement with the companies, the EEOC filed suit in U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York, Civ. No . 11-CV-0286 filed 3/30/11 , to require them to award the credits and pay the affected firefighters or their beneficiaries.

“The retirement programs penalized older firefighters who continued to provide crucial services to the public,” said Judith Biltekoff, a trial attorney in the EEOC’s Buffalo office. “Unfortunately, Clarence’s situation is not unique, and this lawsuit will reinforce the principle that when municipalities discriminate based on age, they are not immune from federal law.”

Judy Keenan, acting regional attorney in the EEOC’s New York office, said, “This should come as no surprise to the Town of Clarence, which knew these programs violated the ADEA. Pensions and retirement benefits are not exempt from ADEA protection, and these companies had plenty of time to not only fix the programs, but provide the service credits and pension amounts that these firefighters earned.”

The EEOC enforces federal laws prohibiting employment discrimination. Further information about the agency and the ADEA is available on its website at www.eeoc.gov.