More than 80 part-time professors dismissed by Oakton Community College in 2015 because they were teaching while collecting state pensions don't have to be rehired, a federal judge has ruled.
The adjunct professors sued the college in 2016, alleging the decision by the Des Plaines-based school to no longer employ annuitants of the State Universities Retirement System, or SURS, was discriminatory.
The college enacted the hiring policy after paying $166,000 in fines for violating part of the state's return-to-work law, designed to prevent retirees from excessive "double dipping" -- or collecting on a pension while working in the public sector.
Rather than monitor teaching assignments to ensure pensioners were not exceeding work limits, school officials stopped employing altogether retired professors collecting on pensions. The school blamed the mistake that led to the fine on a record-keeping error and decided that tracking information to remain in compliance was too burdensome.
Barry Dayton, a former math professor, sued the college, and other adjunct professors joined the lawsuit. They argued the school's blanket policy discriminated against employees on the basis of age and discouraged them from exercising their right to collect pension payments.
U.S. District Judge Matthew Kennelly disagreed in a ruling handed down Feb. 27.
"The court sympathizes with those who elected to retire and begin receiving a SURS annuity with the expectation that their status as a SURS annuitant would not prevent them from continuing to work part-time as adjunct faculty members," Kennelly wrote.
"But Oakton's decision not to employ SURS annuitants does not directly affect plaintiffs' ability to continue to collect their full annuity -- which is what the Illinois Constitution protects -- and plaintiffs identify no SURS provision that would entitle them to simultaneously receive an annuity and engage in post-retirement employment."
Nathan Eisenberg, an attorney at The Previant Law firm that represented the professors, did not return a phone call inquiring whether they plan to appeal the decision.