NYC Pays $20.6 Million Settlement over Nurses’ Pension Dispute

City wrongly denied ‘physically taxing’ status that would have allowed early retirement.

New York City has tentatively agreed to pay $20.6 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the New York State Nurses Association (NYSNA) alleging that more than 1,600 city nurses were improperly denied status that would have permitted them to retire years earlier at full pension.

The settlement is based on a sex discrimination complaint filed with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2008 by NYSNA and four NYSNA-represented public sector nurses after the city refused to classify nursing work as “physically taxing.” The classification allows workers to retire early with no reduction in their pensions because their jobs are physically strenuous.

The physically taxing pension rules require the payment of additional pension contributions, but allows employees in either the NYCERS Tier 4 55/25 retirement plan or the NYCERS Tier 4 57/5 retirement plan to retire as early as age 50, assuming the employee has at least 25 years of qualifying service in relevant job titles. The city has the authority to add job titles to the physically taxing list.

“The settlement is a victory for all nurses and a testament to the hard, physically demanding work that nurses do every day for those in need of care in the public hospitals,” Anne Bové, NYSNA board member, and one of the plaintiffs in the case, said in a release.

In 2004, NYSNA began making repeated requests for nursing job titles to be added to the list of physically taxing occupation titles, but the requests were denied.

In 2008, Bové, three other nurses, and NYSNA filed a formal charge with the EEOC, alleging they were discriminated against on the basis of their gender because registered nurse and midwife titles, typically performed by women, were not on the “physically taxing” list.

The EEOC sided with the nurses, and said that the physical requirements needed to care for patients in public hospitals exposed nurses to rates of injury, illness, and physical strain that are among the highest among all job titles.

More than 1,600 negatively affected nurses will share in the $20.6 million  settlement, based on their age and years of service. Under state law, only nurses who are in the Tier 4 55/25 and 57/5 pension plans are eligible for physically taxing pension rights. Employees in the Tier 4 62/5 or the Tier 6 pension plan that went into effect in April 2012 are excluded by state law, and ineligible to receive money from the settlement.

“Unfairly denying pension benefits to NYSNA nurses was wrong and fixing this wrong was long overdue,” Judith Cutchin, an NYSNA board member, said in a release. “Regardless of our gender or occupation, nurses are as deserving as anyone of equal benefits and respect for the tireless work we do every single day.”

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