Clinton Township officials are expected to go into closed session Monday night to review strategy regarding a lawsuit accusing the township of age discrimination involving a police captain.
At issue is a lawsuit filed by retired police Capt. Richard Maierle, who said his employment was illegally terminated by township officials on his 65th birthday in May 2021. Maierle claims the township violated the Michigan Elliott Larsen Civil Rights Act
The lawsuit alleges Clinton Township Supervisor Bob Cannon conspired with the township and its pension board to discriminate against Maierle, who the suit claims was forced out of the department after 40 years of service.
“Defendants Cannon and Clinton Township’s only reason for terminating Maierle’s employment is the fact that Maierle has reached age 65,” the suit says.
Neither Sam Morgan, the Farmington Hills-based attorney representing the retired captain, nor the township’s counsel on the case, Howard Shifman of Birmingham, could be reached for comment Friday.
Maierle was a captain who oversaw the criminal investigations division and served as chief spokesperson for the police department. He has since been replaced by Capt. Matt Gerling.
He filed the lawsuit in Macomb County Circuit Court on June 1. That’s the date the Clinton Township Fire and Police Retirement System officially considered him retired.
However, the township’s Civil Service rules require any officer reaching the age of 65 to retire. Maierle previously said he had his pension benefits frozen, which removes the mandate to leave the police department.
According to the lawsuit, the police department’s collective bargaining agreement with the captains union does not contain a provision requiring officers to terminate active employment they reach a certain age. Section 6(1)(a) of Public Act 345, the legislation creating a pension board, allows a member of a retirement system to retire from service upon reaching the age of 55 and with 25 years of service, the suit states.
The lawsuit goes on to stay if an employee remains on the job, his or her pension will be deferred until when they actually retire.
In 2001, the Clinton Township Police Captains’ Association, through the collective bargaining agreement, agreed to let its members to voluntarily participate in the Retirement System’s Deferred Retirement Option Plan (DROP).
By agreeing to participate in the DROP plan, Maierle was able to retire under the 50 years of age/25 years of service to begin building a “nest egg” with his monthly pension benefit within the Retirement System and defer receiving his nest egg and pension benefit until he leaves the department.
This past January, Cannon made comments to the then-police captain, indicating he was expected to retire this past May upon reaching his 65th birthday, the suit states. The litigation says Cannon put the process in motion with the pension board and notified Maierle of his “pending mandatory retirement.”
Maierle’s lawsuit states Michael VanOverbeke, an attorney for the pension board, issued a letter this past March that indicated does not have the fiduciary or authority to intervene in an employee’s employment and that age requirement is beyond their purview.
The two sides engaged in further correspondence that included Cannon writing a letter informing the police captain that on June 1 “your employment with Clinton Township shall cease and you shall be separated from service.”
At a May 19 pension board meeting, VanOverbeke seemed to walk back his previous position and told board members allowing Maierle to stay employed would constitute a violation of Public Act 345, the lawsuit states.
Maierle filed a grievance over the issue, which was denied because the township considered his termination was not in response to a disciplinary matter, but rather “retirement is mandatory at 65,” according to the suit.
In addition to monetary damages, the suit asks for a finding that declares police officers and firefighters don’t have to retire at age 65, rescind notices from the township that Maierle be considered retired, and direct the police department from discharging him without just cause.
The case has been assigned to Judge Richard L. Caretti.
The township Board of Trustees has listed the topic on Monday’s agenda, saying a closed session is requested.