In a ruling issued on March 29, 2011, the New York Court of Appeals ruled In the Matter of Meegan v. Brown, Foley v. Brown, and BTF v. Buffalo BOE, 2011 Court of Appeals, No. 37 (March 29, 2011), REVERSED the decision of the Appellate Division-Fourth Department and ruled in favor of the City of Buffalo, the Buffalo Board of Education, and the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority.
The Court of Appeals dismissed claims by the Police and Firefighters Union against the City of Buffalo (“City”) seeking millions of dollars in back pay in a dispute arising from end of the wage freeze imposed by the Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority (“BFSA”). The Court also dismissed claims by the Buffalo Teachers Federation (“BTF”) for back pay against the City of Buffalo Board of Education (“BOE”)
The City was represented in this matter by Goldberg Segalla Partner Matthew C. Van Vessem.
On April 21, 2004, recognizing that the City was in fiscal distress, the BFSA imposed a wage freeze on the City and the BOE. During the period of this freeze, employees did not receive across the board contractual increases or longevity based step increases. In light of improved fiscal conditions, on July 1, 2007, the BFSA lifted the wage freeze. The City and the BOE then advanced each employee to the next step of the longevity scale and provided one year of across the board wage increase if applicable. The employee organizations representing the City’s police and Firefighters and the BTF all sued, claiming that employees were entitled to all of the wage and step increases frozen during the term of the wage freeze.
The unions were successful in State Supreme Court and at the Appellate Division – Fourth Department. The New York Court of Appeals granted leave to appeal to the City, the BFSA, and the BOE. Following oral argument on February 9, 2011, the State’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, reversed the lower courts and dismissed the claims by the Unions.
The Court of Appeals stated: “Ultimately, however, the interpretation proffered by the City most comports with the meaning and purpose of the statute.”
This decision will enable the City and the BOE to continue to move forward toward financial stability.
UPDATE: Please see our January 12, 2012 report, “Goldberg Segalla Helps City of Buffalo Achieve Reversal of Arbitration Award in Firefighters’ Retroactive Pay Raise Case,” for further developments in the case involving the firefighters’ union.