Connecticut Firefighters Sue to Block Pension Benefits to Still-Working Chiefs

Stamford Professional Fire Fighters Association, IAFF Local 786, has filed suit against the Firefighters’ Pension Trust Fund Board of Trustees and the City of Stamford in an effort to block the fire chief and assistant chief from collecting pension benefits while they continue to work for the department. The complaint was filed in Stamford County Superior Court alleging the Board of Trustees violated the terms of the pension plan and the board members breached their fiduciary duties, by allowing the chiefs to collect.

According to the complaint, the pension system was established in 1971 through an “Agreement and Declaration of Trust” between IAFF Local 786 and the city. Quoting from the complaint:

  • The Pension Plan is a qualified employee pension benefit plan as defined by 28 U.S.C. §40l(a), and it states that it should be construed as such.
  • The Pension Board is comprised of two trustees appointed by the Union, two appointed by the City, and the appointment of a fifth neutral trustee, selected by vote of the other four trustees, or as otherwise selected pursuant to the Trust Agreement.
  • The Pension Board is charged with responsibility for management of the Pension Fund for the benefit of its beneficiaries.
  • The Pension Plan authorizes the Pension Board to award pensions upon retirement of beneficiaries from the Fire Department.
  • The Pension Plan does not authorize the payment of pension benefits prior to retirement from the Fire Department, with certain exceptions, including disability and death.
  • Fire Department Chief Trevor Roach and Assistant Chief Miguel Robles (collectively, the “Chiefs”) were members of the collective bargaining unit employed by the Fire Department prior to their promotions to the rank of assistant chief and chief.
  • In their current positions, they are not members of the collective bargaining unit.
  • In April 2020, while still employed by the Fire Department in their current position, the Chiefs applied to the Pension Board for retirement benefits from the Pension Plan.
  • At the time, their intent to continue working for the Fire Department was not clear to the Pension Board.
  • By majority vote, the Pension Board awarded the Chiefs pension benefits, calculated based on their years of service in the Fire Department, including years of service after they were promoted out the collective bargaining unit.
  • The Chiefs’ pension benefits were also based on salary in excess of the salary they received when they last worked in the collective bargaining unit.
  • In June 2020, the Pension Board’s outside counsel circulated a letter to the Board members opining that the Pension Board could not provide pensions to current members of the Fire Department unless the Pension Plan authorized in-service pensions.
  • After the Pension Board awarded the Chiefs pension benefits, the Chiefs signed new employment contracts with the City, maintaining their current positions.
  • The Chiefs’ respective new contracts contained provisions that include a commitment from the City that the Chiefs would continue to receive pension benefits while working for the Fire Department as Chiefs.
  • On July 27, 2021, the Union submitted a proposed resolution to the Pension Board.
  • The Proposed Resolution consisted of four individual provisions for consideration by the Pension Board.
  • One of the provisions in the Proposed Resolution directed the Pension Board to cease paying pension benefits to the Chiefs until such time as they retire from the Fire Department
  • A second provision in the Proposed Resolution directed that, upon retirement, the Pension Board calculate the Chiefs’ pensions based on their years of service in the collective bargaining unit only, not to include service credit for time employed in their current positions.
  • By letters to the Pension Board, the Union explained the basis for its Proposed Resolution – namely that the Pension Plan did not authorize in-service pensions to the Chiefs and so they should be discontinued.
  • During the Pension Board’s meeting on September 14, 2021, on motion by Paul Anderson, duly seconded, the Board took separate votes for each of the four provisions in the Proposed Resolution.
  • The Board voted down each provision in the Proposed Resolution by a vote of 3-2, with only the two Union-appointed trustees voting in favor of the resolution.
  • The Chiefs continue to receive pension benefits.

The suit seeks a declaratory judgment stating:

  • The Pension Board violated the Pension Plan by authorizing and continuing to pay in-service pension benefits to the Chiefs;
  • the Pension Board is obligated to cease pension benefit payments to the Chiefs; and
  • the City is obligated to indemnify the Pension Fund for all pension benefit payments made to the Chiefs, less any contributions made to the Pension Fund by the Chiefs since the departure from the collective bargaining unit.
  • The Pension Plan requires the Pension Board to calculate pension benefits based on years of service in the collective bargaining unit and does not permit the Pension Board to use service outside the collective bargaining unit to increase pension benefits; and
  • The Pension Plan requires the Pension Board to calculate pension benefits based on compensation received while serving within the collective bargaining unit and does not permit the Pension Board to use compensation received outside the collective bargaining unit to increase pension benefits.

Here is a copy of the complaint:

About Curt Varone

Curt Varone has over 45 years of fire service experience and 35 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, 4th ed. 2022) and Fire Officer's Legal Handbook (2007), and is a contributing editor for Firehouse Magazine writing the Fire Law column.
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