Portland Firemen Say City Broke Contract

October 20, 2008

The city of Portland has been hit with a lawsuit filed by six firefighters who say they were ordered back to work even though they were sick or injured.

The lawsuit says the city broke a contract by requiring each of them to work in non-firefighting jobs for the city or have their disability benefits cut off. The lawsuit filed this week seeks $800,000 in damages for each of the six.

The men were ordered back to work following an investigation by The Oregonian newspaper. The series, which led to voter-approved reforms in November 2005, found that one in nine Portland police officers and firefighters was out on disability, and the injured workers were able to collect checks until retirement, even if they could earn a living in another job.

Several of the firefighters who brought the suit were found to be holding other jobs while continuing to collect disability benefits each month from the Portland Fire and Police Disability and Retirement Fund.

The lawsuit alleges that, in response to inquiries by the Oregonian, the six firefighters were forced to work for the city, forced to take early retirement or had their benefits terminated. They said they suffered permanent damage to their knees, shoulders and backs. One went on disability in 2000 after he tested positive for hepatitis C.

The attorney for the plaintiffs, Montgomery W. Cobb, declined comment.

Jenifer Johnston, a deputy city attorney, said the city will contest the lawsuit.

“We want people to be employed. That’s the goal of the program,” she said. “What we’re trying to do there seems pretty positive.”

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