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April 5, 2011

Inability to obtain a timely waiver to reemploy a person receiving a retirement allowance from a public retirement system of this State does not result in a breach of contract

Inability to obtain a timely waiver to reemploy a person receiving a retirement allowance from a public retirement system of this State does not result in a breach of contract
LaSalle v Board of Educ. of Bridgehampton Union Free School Dist., 2011 NY Slip Op 02632, Appellate Division, Second Department

Edward J. LaSalle, a retired schoolteacher, applied for a teaching position with the Bridgehampton Union Free School District. In order for LaSalle to be so reemployed without having his retirement allowance adjusted, the district applied for a “§211 waiver” pursuant to §211.2(a) of the Retirement and Social Security Law.*

In essence, if the school district’s application for a §211 waiver for LaSalle was not approved, LaSalle’s earnings could not exceed the statutory annual earnings limitation of $27,500, which was the sum then applicable to him.** [The maximum currently permitted without loss of retirement benefits set out in RSSL §212 absent a waiver is $30,000. However, there is no earning limitations in or after the calendar year in which the retired individual attains age 65.]

LaSalle signed a salary notification for the school year containing a notation that the salary was "pending NYS waiver for Retiree." In addition, a resolution of the board of education appointing LaSalle as a teacher recited that the hiring was "effective" September 5, 2006. The resolution did not contain termination date for the period of employment but it did state that confirmation of his appointment was "pending NYS Education Department waiver for employment of retiree." The school superintendent also wrote to LaSalle to the same effect.

The school district’s waiver application, which it had submitted in June 2006, was denied.

The district then resubmitted a second waiver application and LaSalle commenced teaching on September 5, 2006.

However, by November 2006 LaSalle was close to the maximum compensation he could earn without have his retirement allowance adjusted and the State Department of Education had not acted on its resubmitted waiver application.

In view of the situation, the district offered LaSalle a number of options, including “placement of his retirement benefits on hold, resignation prior to the date when his salary would reach the statutory earnings limitation, or termination of employment.”

LaSalle elected to resign, which resignation took effect prior to the district’s receiving the Education Department’s approval of the §211 application it had filed on behalf of LaSalle.

LaSalle then sued the district “to recover damages for breach of contract and wrongful termination of employment.”

The Appellate Division affirmed Supreme Court’s determination that the district had established its prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law when it dismissed LaSalle’ petition.

Failure to obtain the required waiver in a timely fashion may result in a financial liability to the retiree.

For example, in Freda v Board of Educ. of City of New York, 224 A.D.2d 360, the court ruled that the NYC Police Retirement System could “recoup” over $100,000 of the retirement allowance that had been paid to Freda because the required §211 approval had not been obtained prior to his being reemployed by the New York City Board of Education following his retirement from the New York City Police Department.

N.B. RSSL §217.1 requires "school salary transparency and disclosure" and mandates that school districts and all BOCES to report " all monies earned by a retired person in their employ that is in excess of the limitations set out in §212 to the appropriate retirement system and to the appropriate political subdivision. RSSL §217.2 requires the school district or the BOCES employing a retired person "who is eligible to collect or is already collecting a retirement allowance" to report, among other things, all earnings of such an individual to the appropirate retirement system and to the State Comptroller.

*The Optional Retirement Plans, available to certain employees of SUNY, CUNY, the statutory colleges at Cornell and Alfred Universities, the community colleges and the New York State Department of Education, are not public retirement systems of this State within the meaning of Article V, §7 of the State Constitution.

** RSSL §211.2(a), in pertinent part, provides that ”No retired person may be employed in a position in public service pursuant to subdivision one hereof except upon approval of  …  (2) the commissioner of education if such person is to be employed in the unclassified service of a school district other than the city of New York, a board of cooperative educational services or a county vocational education and extension board.... The

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