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January 25, 2011

Retirees claim they were mislead by union concerning accepting a retirement incentive

Retirees claim they were mislead by union concerning accepting a retirement incentive
Dolce v Bayport-Blue Point UFSD, 286 AD2d 316

A number of school districts have negotiated retirement incentive provisions in the course of collective bargaining. Sometimes hindsight causes an individual to regret his or her decision to accept or reject the opportunity. The Dolce case concerns a number of teachers who had accepted a retirement incentive only to later regret their decision.

Essentially the retired teachers complained they were misled by their union when they decided to accept the incentive and retire.

According to the decision, Bayport-Blue Point Union Free School District and the teachers’ union negotiated a retirement incentive providing for a one-time payment of $34,000 to eligible teachers who retired by a specified date. Teachers electing the incentive were required to submit irrevocable resignations on or before April 28, 1997.

Dolce alleged that a number of teachers decided to take advantage of the incentive and retire because the Union’s chief negotiator advised them that this was the best offer they would get and that it would never be offered again.

As things turned out, the chief negotiator may have been somewhat pessimistic. In December 1998, the district and the union negotiated a second retirement incentive that provided for the same one-time payment to teachers who elected to retire by June 30, 1999. The second agreement specifically provided that it would not apply to teachers who had previously submitted their resignations.

Dolce and the other teachers sued, complaining that they lost substantial salary and pension benefits in reliance upon the Union’s representation that the 1997 one-time retirement incentive would not be offered again. They also objected to the district’s refusal to allow them to rescind or recant their resignations in order to take advantage of the second retirement incentive. Justice Emerson dismissed the petition, holding that it was untimely.

State Supreme Court Justice Emerson said that while Dolce’s petition concerning the union is based on allegations of breach of contract and fraud, Dolce’s remedy against the Union is an action for breach of the duty of fair representation.

The Appellate Division agreed, holding that:

Supreme Court correctly determined that the plaintiffs' claims against the Teachers' Association were time-barred, citing Bitterman v Herricks Teachers' Association, 220 AD2d 473. Further, as the claims against the superintendent of schools and other school officials, such claims are “inextricably intertwined with the claims against the Teachers' Association for breach of duty of fair representation.” Accordingly, said the court, they are governed by the four-month Statute of Limitations in CPLR 217 (2) (b), and thus, they are also time-barred [with respect to suing the district officials].

Another critical element in pursuing this lawsuit: Dolce had neglected to file a timely notice of claim as mandated by Section 3813(l) of the Education Law, a condition precedent to suing a school district concerning a “personal matter.”


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