By Alison Knezevich, The Baltimore Sun
8:37 PM EDT, May 30, 2013
Baltimore County's recent settlements with two firefighters and a police officer who alleged the county violated federal disability law will cost taxpayers more than $1 million — more than county officials had previously revealed.
The three settlements include a total of more than $545,000 in back pay, damages and attorney's fees, according to Kathleen Cahill, the workers' lawyer. Together, the two firefighters also could get between about $500,500 and more than $757,000 in retirement benefits, depending on how much longer they work, Cahill said.
County firefighters Donald Becker and Stanley Kuklinski and former police Lt. Michael Lauenstein had claimed the county made them undergo unnecessary medical exams and forced them to quit without evidence that they could no longer perform their duties. They sued last year in federal court, alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Earlier this month, the county released a statement saying it had settled the cases and that the men would get $20,000 each in damages, as well as a total of more than $47,000 in attorney's fees. At the time, Cahill disputed the county's description of the deals but said she would wait until the settlements were finalized to comment.
County Attorney Mike Field said Thursday the county did not release all details of the settlement because information about an employee's retirement benefits is confidential under state law.
"I didn't feel like I was authorized to release the details," Field said. "[Cahill] is, and I fully expected she would."
Becker and Kuklinski will be able to return to work in light-duty positions for the county under the settlement.
"I'm just so pleased for these three men who have been in a fight to work for years," Cahill said. "I'm really pleased for them that they are through with the fight and that they have been fairly compensated. … These are guys who put their lives on the line."
Cahill said she is representing 16 other county employees and job applicants — including school bus drivers, a librarian, a school custodian, and correctional officers — who she said have won favorable decisions before the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission regarding similar complaints against the county.
Field declined to comment on those cases.
Cahill said she believes the county has "a litigation strategy of fighting and fighting and fighting, where they end up losing and spending large sums of taxpayer money on the fight."
Last year, the county agreed to pay $500,000 to settle another lawsuit, filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, over workplace discrimination issues — mostly based on medical conditions — involving employees and job candidates in the police and fire departments.
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