The Niskayuna Central School District is challenging an arbitrator’s ruling forcing it to provide retiree health benefits to a former bus driver shown to have lied on his time sheets.
The district filed suit last week in state Supreme Court in Schenectady County, asking a judge to overturn the ruling.
The matter relates to Michael Mareno, a bus driver who had worked for the district in part-time and full-time capacity over a period of 20 years.
In summer of 2010, Mareno drove a special education route. Bus drivers are allowed to put in for extra time to compensate for traffic jams, road construction or other traffic problems.
During that summer, though, Mareno put in extra time for nearly every day he worked, the suit reads. But time sheets, bus video and GPS data showed he hadn’t worked the extra time he claimed.
There were also allegations that Mareno followed a district transportation department employee twice to Albany.
He was later charged with harassment, related to following the employee, and falsifying business records and petty larceny related to the false time sheets. Mareno ultimately pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, a violation, and agreed to pay restitution to the district, according to court officials.
Given the option to resign or face disciplinary charges, Mareno chose not to resign, according to the suit. A hearing officer later recommended Mareno be fired, a recommendation the Board of Education accepted.
The district also assumed the state retirement system had approved a September 2010 retirement application by Mareno, and therefore approved retiree health benefits for him.
The termination, though, changed his status from retired to fired meaning the district could terminate his retiree health insurance, according to the suit.
Mareno’s union, the Niskayuna School District Employees Association, filed a grievance. The union is named as the defendant in the new action; a representative could not be reached to comment for this story.
The district argued that Mareno was not entitled to the health benefits because he was terminated. The arbitrator, though, ruled for the union. The school board authorized an appeal last month.
Attorney Miles G. Lawlor, representing the district, argued in the filing that the arbitrator “improperly ignored the long-standing public policy embodied in the ‘faithless servant’ doctrine by defrauding and stealing from the Niskayuna Central School District.”
The action appears to affect only Mareno’s retiree health benefits, not his pension, which cannot be taken away from those who are fired.
Mareno retired effective Sept. 23, 2010, and began receiving a pension of $614.72 monthly based on 16.61 years of service, according to the state Comptroller’s Office.
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