Federal judge certifies class-action lawsuit against Oakton
A lawsuit against Oakton Community College alleging a professor was wrongfully fired may cover all employees terminated as part the school's policy to no longer employ instructors collecting pension payments, a federal judge has ruled.
The decision last week by U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly means 79 former employees who had been receiving payments from the State Universities Retirement System could be included in the class-action lawsuit.
The disputed hiring policy stems from fines the college paid for violating part of the state's return-to-work law, which is designed to prevent retirees from excessive "double dipping" -- or collecting on a pension while working in the public sector.
If an instructor's class loads and pension payments exceed certain amounts, the state law imposes penalties on public colleges that pay teachers who have retired from full-time teaching jobs. Colleges must pay a penalty if the instructor is paid more than 40 percent of his or her highest pre-retirement salary while collecting pension payments of more than $10,000 annually.
After the college was penalized for violating the law, administration officials implemented the policy to no longer employ annuitants, arguing monitoring the requirements was burdensome. In July 2015, 79 part-time faculty members were no longer employed as a result of the policy. Barry Dayton, a former part-time math instructor, filed the lawsuit alleging the hiring policy violates age discrimination laws.
Dayton's attorney, Nathan Eisenberg, who works at Wisconsin-based The Previant Law Firm, argues the policy paints employees with a broad brush rather than determining whether the return-to-work law affects them.
"That's a problematic way for an employer to deal with its workforce," Eisenberg said.
About 20 former employees indicated interest in joining the lawsuit before the federal judge certified class-action status, Eisenberg said. More former faculty members could join the case over the next 45 days. The plaintiffs are seeking re-employment and payments for lost wages and damages.
A college spokesman did not immediately respond to a phone call and email Thursday.