Saginaw Police Officers File Age-Discrimination Lawsuit Against City, Union

SAGINAW, MI — Several Saginaw police officers have filed a lawsuit against the city they work in and their own union, alleging a contract change is forcing them to work years longer before they can retire with full health care coverage.

Attorney Victor J. Mastromarco Jr. on Feb. 9 filed the lawsuit in Saginaw County Circuit Court on behalf of current officers Bradley Holp, 37; Roger Pate, 45; Matthew Carpus, 35; and Steven Lautner, 38; and former officer Richard Thompson, 48. The city of Saginaw and the Police Officers Association of Michigan, or POAM, are named as defendants.

All five officers were hired by the city between Jan. 1, 2005, and Feb. 9, 2009, the suit states. Their employment was governed by a contract effective through June 30, 2011. Part of that contract stated those officers who retire with 20 or more years of service after Feb. 9, 2009, would have their health care covered 100 percent, the suit states.

However, a new contract signed Sept. 12, 2011, that was to be effective through June 30, 2014, states retirees are only eligible for 100 percent of their health care coverage if they retired at age 55 or older. The new contract also states that “all Health Care Vesting schedule requirements would apply along with the required employee contribution as the time of requirement.”

This change “effectively takes away vesting dates and requires that the police officer work until age 55 or later to obtain health care benefits,” the suit states.

“It’s a huge deal to eliminate the medical benefits for these guys,” said Mastromarco in an interview with MLive. “The way it was set up, once you get 20 years in, you’ve got benefits for life. By changing it, instead of putting a grandfather-type clause in there that would not have affected the agreement, they said, ‘Now you got to work till you’re 55.’”

The two youngest officers, Holp and Carpus, would have to work an additional 10 and 12 years, respectively, or receive no benefits, the suit states. Thompson left the department after 10 years in July 2018, at which time he “would have been 50% vested and, thus, due partial medical coverage under the previous contract language,” the suit states.

“Police officers tend to retire around 45 years old, a lot of them,” Mastromarco said. “The city knows that, so by extending it to 55 they’re affecting certainly these five guys.”

The five plaintiffs are the only officers affected by this change, which Mastromarco claims was made without their knowledge. He further claims in the suit that the contract’s language “unfairly discriminates against the (officers) since they are members of a protected class, because of their age.”

Other employees are not affected as they were not employed under the old contract when the changes were made, the suit alleges.

“It’s not right at all, what they did,” Mastromarco said. “They knew what they were doing when they were doing it. They knew darn well it was going to be affecting these guys. With police officers, one of the biggest things for them is the benefits that they get for risking their lives for many years. And by them taking it away just shows a complete disregard for reality.”

POAM membership did not agree to the change in contract language, nor were the changes discussed or proposed to members in writing. In the alternative, POAM leadership conspired with the city to deprive the five officers of theirproperty rights due to their ages, the suit alleges.

The suit lists four counts against the defendants — violations of procedural and substantive due process, discrimination based on age, conspiracy to violate the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, and fraud and/or silent fraud.

The suit is seeking a minimum of $25,000, plus costs, interests, and attorney fees. That amount is the minimum figure needed to file a lawsuit at the circuit court level.

Mastromarco said the ideal outcome is for the city and POAM to reverse course and reinstate the five plaintiffs’ rights under the previous contract.

“In my opinion, that would be the smartest thing for them to do,” he said. “Otherwise, they’re staring at a lot of damages. If you were to calculate what those medical benefits are, it would be tremendous. What we would be seeking is the cost of the medical benefits for the rest of their lives.”

Saginaw Police Department declined to comment on the lawsuit, citing its pending status. Calls seeking comment from POAM President James Tignanelli were not returned.

A court date for the lawsuit is yet to be scheduled.

From www.mlive.com

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