A longtime member of the Glencoe Public Safety Department filed a civil lawsuit earlier this year complaining about his mandated retirement from the police force at his 65th birthday, but a Cook County judge has sided with the department.
In a ruling delivered Aug. 8, Cook County Circuit Court Judge Franklin Valderrama sided with the village’s public safety department that officer John Cegielski had to retire April 24, 2018 – the day he turned 65.
On April 3, Cegielski sued the police department he had worked for since 1978, stating that the state law the department was following in forcing him to retire “upon his 65th birthday” was “ambiguous,” court documents show.
However, Valderrama agreed with the village in its interpretation of the Illinois Board of Fire and Police Commissioners Act, which calls for a mandatory retirement age of 65 for police officers and firefighters.
“The court finds that the act is not ambiguous as its meaning can be interpreted from its plain language,” the judge stated in his ruling. “The plain language of the act requires mandatory retirement upon reaching age 65, in other words, on a public safety officer’s sixty-fifth birthday.”
Cegielski had argued in his complaint that he would be 65 for the whole year and wanted to stay with the Public Safety Department at least through September, when he would have reached his 40th anniversary with the department, according to court documents.
Also, he said in the court documents, he would have been eligible for a promotion to lieutenant – after passing the exam for the rank in June 2016.
“That’s the goal I had set,” Cegielski told the Glencoe News.
He said in the court documents that he was looking to “maximize my opportunity to promotion to lieutenant.”
With the forced retirement, “I lose a portion of my income, my ability to complete 40 years of service and any opportunity for promotion to lieutenant, which offers both monetary and non-monetary benefits,” Cegielski said in this lawsuit.
Cegielski, who joined the village’s public safety department in September 1978, sought review of a decision of the village’s public safety commission that put him into retirement.
Cegielski was informed August 15, 2017 in a memo from Public Safety Director Cary Lewandowski that the village confirmed that the Illinois Board of Fire and Police Commissioners Act applied to Glencoe. As part of that act, the village’s police officers and firefighters face a mandatory retirement of 65, Lewandowski wrote in the memo.
Cegielski had argued in front of the village’s Public Safety Commission that the retirement age law was somewhat muddled and that someone was 65 throughout the year until their 66th birthday.
However, neither the village nor Valderrama agreed with him.
“We’re pleased that the perspective that the village has had — [that] is there is a state law and we are following state law — was upheld by the court. From that perspective it was acknowledging we were doing the right thing,” Village Manager Phil Kiraly said after Valderrama issued his ruling.
Kiraly previously said that since Glencoe is not a home-rule community, it is forced to adhere to any state law.
“The village has no authority to extend the retirement date of a sworn public safety officer,” Kiraly said.
Cegielski acknowledged that his court battle was an uphill one.
“I wasn’t surprised by any means with all the attorneys the village had,” he said. “When it is me against seven high-powered attorneys, what do you think it is going to happen?”
Cegielski added he was thinking about appealing the ruling, but was not certain he would do so.
Cegielski said his decision to stay on the force did not involve a desire to increase his pension. He just wanted to be around for an even four decades.
“I just wanted to get my 40 years in,” he said.
Cegielski, who lives in Lake Forest, added he was disappointed that there weren’t symbolic gestures offered to him on his last day in April, such as a small party or a mention of his retirement at a Village Board meeting – where, he said, often times departing village employees receive acknowledgment from the mayor and trustees.
“I fell off the face of the earth after 39 years,” Cegielski said.
But Kiraly said Cegielski took a vacation day on his last work weekday in April, and officials sent dinner to the officers on duty on the Saturday that was his last day.
Further, Kiraly said, since Cegielski’s lawsuit was still pending at the time of his departure, village leaders chose not to publicly mention the retirement.
“The village continues to be grateful to Mr. Cegielski’s for his service to the community,” Kiraly said.
Daniel I. Dorfman is a freelance reporter for the Pioneer Press.