NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York City was sued by the U.S. government on Thursday over allegations it unlawfully reduced pension benefits for police officers who have served in the military since the September 11, 2001, attacks.
The class action accused the city of using only police officers' base pay to calculate benefits. Under the law, an employer must take into account the compensation that the service member would likely have earned had he or she not been performing military service, the lawsuit said.
The higher compensation would likely also have earned extras, such as overtime and night differentials, the suit said. It expands on a previous lawsuit and covers all current and active New York Police Department officers who performed active military service since the hijacked plane attacks 11 years ago.
"The purpose of this lawsuit is to ensure that soldiers remain on the same footing as their civilian counterparts and receive all the benefits to which they are entitled, and that they are not penalized for their service by the unlawful calculation of those benefits," Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, who brought the suit, said in a statement.
In a statement, a city attorney said the pension benefits were properly calculated.
"The law requires that employees who are called up for military duty be treated the same as any other employee who goes out on leave," said the attorney, Georgia Pestana. "We believe that the pension benefits we provide to police officers who have served in the military meet that standard."
The lawsuit was first filed on behalf of three police officers. U.S. District Judge Richard Sullivan in Manhattan ruled on Tuesday that one of the individuals, David Goodman, could amend his lawsuit to turn it into a class action.
Goodman, a detective who retired from the NYPD in 2009, is a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army reserves. Between 2002 and 2009, according to the lawsuit, he served four stints in Afghanistan and Iraq.
His pension benefits do not take into account the compensation, including overtime and night differentials, Goodman likely would have earned had he not been deployed overseas, the lawsuit claims.
The other named plaintiffs, Michael Doherty and Robert Black, were members of the U.S. Coast Guard reserves who served stints in Afghanistan while employed by the NYPD, according to the lawsuit.
In addition to the city, Bharara sued the police department and the police pension fund, which covers 36,000 active officers and 43,000 retirees.
New York City has five pension funds, and the police fund's net assets totaled $24.75 billion in fiscal 2011, a 24 percent increase from the previous year, according to financial statements.
(Reporting by Joan Gralla and Jonathan Stempel; Editing by M.D. Golan and Jackie Frank)