An employee group representing federal law enforcement officers filed a lawsuit last week challenging the legality of a 2016 Office of Personnel Management decision to change how it calculates a pension supplement for retirees under the age of 62.
Under the Federal Employees Retirement System, workers who retire before they are 62 receive a supplement until they are eligible for Social Security. Many retirees who benefit from the supplement served in law enforcement jobs, which often require people to retire at age 57.
In 2016, OPM changed its policy on the annuity supplement, deciding to grant a “marital share” of the payment to a divorced retiree’s ex-spouse if the retiree is subject to a state divorce decree. For decades prior to that decision, OPM considered the supplement to be a Social Security-type benefit, and thus not subject to being split among ex-spouses.
After multiple attempts to convince OPM to reverse its decision, the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association, an organization representing more than 27,000 federal employees, sued the agency in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. In its initial filing, the organization argued the decision to subject annuity supplements to a “marital share” is based on a misreading of federal statute.
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“Apportioning the annuity supplement absent a court order expressly directing it be divided is contrary to the law because the relevant statutes require OPM to implement division orders pursuant to divorce in a purely ministerial fashion,” the lawsuit states. “OPM’s Inspector General reached exactly that conclusion when it recommended that the agency cease implementing the new policy and compensate adversely affected retirees—a recommendation that OPM disregarded.”
To make matters worse, the organization argued, is the fact that OPM implemented the policy change retroactively, billing retirees for what the agency deemed they owed their former spouse from past supplement payments. One retiree reported being sent an invoice for more than $28,000.
“Even if this charge were required by statute—it is not—OPM would be in essence penalizing retirees, in many cases heavily, for its own mistake,” the lawsuit states.
In a statement, FLEOA President Nathan Catura blasted OPM’s refusal to reverse the 2016 policy change.
“As each month goes by, OPM continues to take from dedicated federal law enforcement officers and public servants who have committed their life to serving their country,” Catura said. “Ultimately, if OPM is unwilling or unable to protect the financial security of our retired members then we must act.”
OPM did not respond to a request for comment Friday.