On Sept. 10 the Office of Court Administration wrote Lieut. Angela Shirlaw, who had a double mastectomy in 2017 as a consequence of the breast cancer she contracted during her work at the contaminated World Trade Center site, that the agency was rescinding 81 hours of annual leave time it had granted her last year.
At issue, according to the OCA, was the portion of Ms. Shirlaw’s lost time that was not expressly designated as sick time.
Union Head: Outrageous
“It is a little outrageous,” said Dennis Quirk, president of the New York State Court Officers Association. “They have credited people with time as they were required to do under the legislation and now, they are taking it back.”
He continued, “It seems that every time you turn around, the Office of Court Administration does something negative against people who were affected by 9/11. Today they had a ceremony at the Court Officers’ Academy praising everybody for 9/11, but they don’t practice what they preach.”
The workweek for state Court Officers is 35 hours, and they are given the option of getting paid for the balance they work, between 35 and 40 hours, or banking it toward retirement. That balance, along with other unused time, can be used to buy post-employment benefits.
Mr. Quirk said his members had been asked to fill out an application for the 9/11 benefit which required they identify their sick time, compensation and vacation time.
“I feel totally disheartened by this agency,” Ms. Shirlaw said in a phone interview. “They are making sure we never forget.”
The union estimated the clawback affects 25 Court Officers.
In a response to a query from this newspaper, a spokesman for the OCA confirmed that a letter had gone out but said it was the result of “discussions with the State Comptroller,” at which point “we collectively determined that a portion of her accrued time, approximately 81 hours of annual leave, compensatory and pre-tour prep time, was not subject to restoration by the WTC-Sick Leave legislation signed by the Governor.”
The spokesman’s email continued, “The vast majority of her accrued time, however, 881 hours of sick leave, was restored and remains hers. Regrettably, that letter was dated September 10th, the day before the 18th anniversary of the attacks, and we take responsibility for that; however, it should in no way reflect anything but our bureaucratic failing, not the sacrifices made by both the Lieutenant and all Court Officers who responded that day, in the days after and continue to contribute so much.”
A staffer in State Comptroller Thomas P. Di Napoli’s press office said that the Comptroller had not been asked for an opinion on Ms. Shirlaw’s case but could not confirm the agency was reviewing OCA’s re-interpretation of the 2017 law.
Way Around State Law
In 2018, OCA denied Ms. Shirlaw’s claim for hundreds of hours she sought credit for after she exhausted her leave bank in the process of seeking treatment for her aggressive WTC-certified cancer.
OCA’s denial was issued despite Governor Cuomo in September 2017 having signed a bill that granted unlimited sick time to all certified state, county and municipal employees outside New York City.
The agency claimed that Ms. Shirlaw was ineligible because she and her fellow Court Officers who had been detailed to the WTC site had actually volunteered for the assignment.
Twelve months ago, Ms. Shirlaw went public about her situation in testimony before the State Senate Civil Service and Pensions Committee, which was investigating the failure of state and local agencies to comply with the WTC unlimited sick-leave bill.
In addition to the aggressive form of breast cancer, she was diagnosed with polyneuropathy, a side effect of her treatment that was also certified as a World Trade Center condition.
An Abrupt Reversal
After Ms. Shirlaw’s testimony, Mr. Quirk championed her cause and in short order OCA reversed course and restored the lost time.
“As you may know, the General Municipal Law was amended to provide for sick leave at full pay and without charge to accruals for public employees who 'participated in the World Trade Center rescue, recovery or cleanup operations' and subsequently developed a qualifying World Trade Center condition,” OCA’s Carolyn Grimaldi told stakeholders last year. “Under the law, eligible employees are also entitled to restoration of sick leave accruals used previously for such qualifying condition from the date of their initial diagnosis.”
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