Arizona Fire Chief Sues City Over Pension Denial

Today’s burning question: If you were hired as a fire chief by a city who promised you eligibility for a state managed pension, and it turned out the state pension board ruled your were ineligible, what would you do? An Arizona fire chief is taking steps to sue his employer over that very issue.

Fire Chief Thomas Solberg left the Lee’s Summit, Missouri Fire Department in 2009 to become the fire chief in Peoria, Arizona. At the time he was told that he would be eligible for membership in the Arizona State Retirement System, and would vest after 5 years of service.  

However, after accepting the job, moving his family to Arizona, and paying into the ASRS for 14 months Chief Solberg was informed by ASRS that he was ineligible for their pension. ASRS said Chief Solberg belonged in the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System. There are two problems with that suggestion.

First, PSPRS requires a minimum of twenty years of service to vest, which is a lot to expect out of a 52 year old. It is the kind of thing that could make a fire chief pass on an otherwise decent job offer. Second, and of even greater concern, PSPRS considers Chief Solberg to be ineligible for their pension because he is not assigned to hazardous duty.

Chief Solberg is appealing the ASRS decision, and has placed the city of Peoria on notice that he plans to sue for $3.4 million.

Solberg was quoted by as saying: “I’m just so disappointed that this kind of thing could happen to anybody… It’s almost like ‘well we’ll all just play this legal game of finger-pointing and forget that we’re talking about a real person.’ “

More on the story.


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.

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