Councilman Files Lawsuit Seeking Reinstatement of Firefighter Pension.

Scranton City Councilman John Loscombe volunteered to serve on the council to finish the remainder of a four year term for a councilman who was elected tax collector.  As a retired Scranton firefighter Loscombe received a pension of about $22,000 per year. As a councilman he receives a stipend of  $12,500.

Like many pension systems, Scranton has ordinances that provide that a retired firefighter's pension "shall be suspended during his term of service" to the city, and resumed on request of the pensioner "upon termination of such compensated service."  Shortly after taking office in February of this year, his pension payments were stopped.

Last week Loscombe filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the city seeking reinstatement of his pension and back payments. He is alleging violation of due process and retaliation for the exercise of his First Amendment rights.

Fundamentally, Loscombe is arguing that as a citizen he has a constitutional right to hold political office and serve in political positions without being penalized financially. He further argues that the stopping of his pension was intended to place financial pressure on him to resign, and was done without first granting him the opportunity for a hearing.

Public opinion on his case seems split, with sound arguments on both sides. Pro Loscombe, and anti Loscombe. Arguably, a person may have a constitutional right to serve in a political office, but not a right to receive pension payments. However, a governmental action that unnecessarily burdens the exercise of a constitutional right may be invalid.

This will be an interesting case to follow.

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 40 years of fire service experience and 30 as a practicing attorney licensed in both Rhode Island and Maine. His background includes 29 years as a career firefighter in Providence (retiring as a Deputy Assistant Chief), as well as volunteer and paid on call experience. He is the author of two books: Legal Considerations for Fire and Emergency Services, (2006, 2nd ed. 2011, 3rd ed. 2014) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
  • John K. Murphy

    Curt – I read this with interest in that you CAN look at this issue from both sides. In the PRO for Loscombe, his pension should not be suspended while serving in an elected public capacity whereas he receives a stipend with no retirement benefits. In Washington State if you retire and receive a pension and you return to a public service position under the same state pension system but in a different capacity (i.e. retire as a Deputy Chief and get hired as the Fire Chief) in a department that contributes to the state retirement system, your pension benefits are suspended to avoid double dipping – you get your regular salary and additional contributions to the pension system. This additional service time adds to your pension dollars when you retire a second time.
    You can generally avoid this problem under an Exempt Employee Services Contract that takes you out of the pension system requirement for contributions by the employer. In other words, you can double dip.
    If you are elected to a position like a city councilmember, your pension is not suspended as you receive a small stipend but no pension system contributions. A good example of this locally is a police officer who is a lawyer retires from the police department and collects a pension from the state retirement system for a couple of years. He is then elected as a judge and falls under a similar state retirement system. His pension is suspended and he re-enters the pension system whereas his employer (the courts) restarts his pension contributions towards retirement. In other words; no double dipping.
    However in Washington, if you retire and receive a pension and then are elected to a city council position there is no pension system. There are no provisions under state law for a pension benefit while serving in this capacity; you get the stipend and your pension.
    On the CON side for Loscombe, he should have been aware of the stipulation that his pension would be suspended if elected and worked to change that language so he qualifies for his pension and the stipend. I don’t believe that he will prevail on his 1st Amendment claim.
    Time will tell.


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