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Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Determining General Municipal Law Section 207-a benefits to be paid the individual after he or she retires

Determining General Municipal Law Section 207-a benefits to be paid the individual after he or she retires
Gresis v Fairview Fire District, Supreme Court, Justice Loehr, 15 Misc.3d 209

James J. Gresis is a retired Fire Captain receiving a performance of duty disability retirement allowance from the New York State Employees’ Retirement System plus a supplemental benefit pursuant to General Municipal Law Section 207-a(2) paid by Fairview. The Section 207-a supplemental benefit to be paid by Fairview is the difference between the amount of Gresis’ disability retirement allowance and the amount of “his regular salary and wages” until he reaches mandatory service retirement age, age 70.*

When Gresis commenced receiving his retirement allowance, the collective bargaining agreement (CBA) then in effect between the Fairview Fire Department and the Fire Fighters Association provided for a graduated salary structure for firefighters based on years of service. Further, Gresis’ “regular salary and wages” as a Captain was determined by applying a mathematical formula that provided Fairview Fire Captains with an annual salary that was 35% higher than the salary of a first-grade Firefighter.

In September 2002, all Captains, with the exception of Gresis, were reclassified Deputy Chiefs. Any Captain seeking to be appointed to this new title had to take and pass the Deputy Chief's examination. It appears that all Captains, with the exception of Gresis, took the Deputy Chief's examination and were appointed Deputy Chiefs.

Initially Fairport provided a Section 207-a supplement to Gresis based on a Captain's salary. However, commencing in mid-2006, Fairview reduced the supplement it had been paying Gresis to a lesser amount.

Gresis claimed that his supplement should be based on the compensation rate paid to Deputy Chiefs. The impact of this change in compensation, according to Gresis, was as though Fairport had demoted him from two grade levels above the Firefighter's grade to one grade above Firefighter’s grade. Fairview’s reduction of his supplementation to his retirement allowance, Gresis argued, violated General Municipal Law Section 207-a.

Fairport, on the other hand, maintained that it had continued to pay Gresis at the grade he retired at: Captain. It argued that any reduction in the amount of the supplement was the result of the reclassification and the new CBA, In effect, Fairport said that the pay rate for its Fire Captains at the time Gresis retired was now equal to the pay rate for its Fire Lieutenants. Thus, Fairport contended, it had not demoted Gresis but merely provided him with the supplement reflecting the change in the classification and allocation of his former position.

The court, citing Pease v Colucci, 59 AD2d 233,** rejected Fairview’s theory. It ruled that Section 207-a guarantees that any firefighter who suffers an employment-connected disability will receive his or her full annual wage “which shall not be interrupted or reduced in any respect except as based on the employee's own misconduct.”

The court decided that Fairport’s reduction of Gresis’ supplemental benefit from two grades above a Firefighter's to one grade above a Firefighter's was arbitrary and capricious and in violation of General Municipal Law Section 207-a(2).

* In Drahos v Village of Johnston City, 80 AD2d 100, the Court held that a firefighter injured in the line of duty and unable to return to work is entitled to the full amount of his regular salary until he returns, citing Section 207-a of the General Municipal Law. This, said the Drahos court, includes increases and adjustments received by firefighters in active status during the period of absence.

**  In Pease the Appellate Division ruled that once an individual became qualified for a Section 207-a benefit, the benefit continues until the individual recovers or reaches the mandatory age of retirement. The Pease case involved a Buffalo fire lieutenant who was "laid off" from his position while on Section 207-a leave. Lieutenant Pease’s position was abolished due to the City of Buffalo's financial difficulties. Buffalo then "reinstated" Pease to a firefighter position; reducing his Section 207-a supplement by calculating it on basis of a "firefighter's salary" rather than his previous salary as a lieutenant. This change, said the court, violated mandates set out in Section 207-a with respect to supplements to the retirement allowance to be paid to by the employer.

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General Municipal Law§§ 207-a and 207-c - a 1098 page e-book focusing on administering General Municipal Law Sections 207-a/207-c and providing benefits thereunder is available from the Public Employment Law Press. Click on http://section207.blogspot.com/ for additional information about this electronic reference manual.

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Handbooks focusing on State and Municipal Public Personnel Law continue to be available for purchase via the links provided below:

The Discipline Book at http://thedisciplinebook.blogspot.com/

A Reasonable Penalty Under The Circumstances at http://nypplarchives.blogspot.com

The Disability Benefits E-book: at http://section207.blogspot.com/

Layoff, Preferred Lists at http://nylayoff.blogspot.com/

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