Firefighters’ Pensions Are Public Record, Judge Rules

| New York Law Journal

The names of former New York City firefighters and the public pensions they are receiving must be released under the state Freedom of Information Law to a group that is building a database of public employee pensioners, a judge ruled.

Acting Brooklyn Supreme Court Justice Peter Sweeney rejected the argument by unions representing firefighters and the city that releasing the data to the Empire Center for New York State Policy could subject former officers of the New York Fire Department (FDNY) who were in law enforcement jobs to potential dangers by identifying them by name.

“One would think that if someone who had a grudge against a law enforcement officer, he or she would already know his or her name,” Sweeney wrote in Hagan v. City of New York, 012574/2014.

He also said, as a general rule, public employees have a lower expectation of privacy than private sector employees about their pensions since the benefits are taxpayer funded.

Josh Stillman, an associate at Jones Day in Manhattan, represented the Empire Center. Harry Greenberg, partner at Greenberg Burzichelli Greenberg in Lake Success, represented the firefighters’ unions. Assistant New York City Corporation Counsel Lauren Lively argued for the city and the FDNY.

Security and privacy concerns were raised by both the firefighters’ unions and the city in the FOIL request filed by the Empire Center, an Albany-based think tank that has been making public employee salary and pension information available on its website, SeeThroughNY.net.

In May 2014, the state Court of Appeals ordered compliance with a similar FOIL request by Empire Center for teachers’ pension information in Empire Center v. New York State Teachers’ Retirement System, 23 NY3d 438 (NYLJ, May 7).

© 2015 New York Law Journal