Ex-Worker Sues Allegheny Co. Retirement System Over Disability Standards

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — For 33 years, Susan Donohue of West Deer worked and paid into the Allegheny County pension system until she developed a disability in her early 50s.

“I have severe back degeneration, which is the biggest issue that I have, and it was progressing through the years,” Donohue told KDKA money editor Jon Delano on Wednesday.

The disability was so severe that she qualified for Social Security disability and was laid off from her county job.

“The county, with paperwork sent in from my doctors, said they could no longer accommodate me, and they fired me,” said Donohue.

But even though the county found her too disabled to work, the county pension board denied Donohue’s request for her disability pension.

Delano: “So one hand of government is saying you’re disabled and can’t work anymore?”

Donohue: “Correct.”

Delano: “And the other hand of government is saying, no, you’re not disabled, so we’re not going to give you your pension?”

Donohue: “Correct.”

Delano: “How did that make you feel?”

Donohue: “Very angry. Frustrated.”

So frustrated that Donohue and her attorneys have filed a 17-page class action lawsuit against the Allegheny County Retirement Board for failing to set standards on what disabilities qualify for a pension before age sixty.

“We have no clue for what the standards are for meeting the required criterion of total and permanently disabled because there are none,” said Tybe Brett, one of Donohue’s attorneys.

“The system where there is no eligibility requirements, no standards no published standards, violates the Constitution,” adds attorney Timothy O’Brien.

So why take a personal complaint and turn it into a class action lawsuit?

It turns out through a process called discovery, the plaintiffs will be able to find out who got a disability pension and who did not, and whether the rules were the same — fair and equitable — for everyone.

Donohue wants both her disability pension and guidelines for all, she says, “to keep what happened to me from happening to other people.”

“It’s wrong. It’s very wrong.”

Brian Gabriel, the attorney for the Retirement Board, tells KDKA that, while he won’t comment on this case, the board complies with the state pension statute.

The law requires three physicians hired by the board to certify that a person is totally and permanently disabled.

The standard is tough, he says, but that was set by the legislature, not the board.

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