Greene County, employees settle lawsuit over backpay

Greene County and 10 of its employees will settle a lawsuit over backpay.

The county says the employees owe a combined $90,000 in wages they were overpaid in the past 11 years because of a withholding error related to Medicare coverage. The employees say they did nothing wrong and this was a mistake made by the county. The lawsuit filed by Greene County in November 2020 says the employees were overpaid and not paying the county back is “unjust.”

Those employees have agreed to pay the county $13,611.

ExploreGreene County Commissioners sue 10 employees over backpay

Greene County commissioners voted two to one in favor of the settlement.

Commissioner Tom Koogler said he voted “no” on the measure because he didn’t feel the settlement was in the best interest of taxpayers.

“We have to be good stewards of taxpayer money,” Koogler said. “I think we should have waited to see what a judge would have had to say about this.”

Commissioners Dick Gould and Rick Perales voted in favor of the settlement. Gould said he was in favor of settling the issue because he was concerned that the county’s legal fees would exceed what the county was owed. Gould also said he thought settling showed goodwill toward the employees involved.

County Administrator Brandon Huddleson said the county’s legal fees for this matter were about $30,000.

“I think this is a bad way to respect those employees. Sometimes suing somebody is not the best way to go. I think talking and working something out is always the best way to go,” Perales said.

As part of the settlement agreement, Greene County agrees not to file any claim with the IRS, Social Security Administrator or any other agency seeking a refund for money already paid by the county on behalf of those 10 employees.

ExploreGreene County employees sued say they tried to negotiate unsuccessfully with commissioners

The overpayment stems from a state law that says state and local government employees who are hired or rehired after March 31, 1986, must pay into Medicare for future coverage. The employees in question retired and then were rehired by Greene County after 2007, but the county auditor’s office didn’t withhold payment for the Medicare coverage for those employees until 2018, according to records obtained by the Dayton Daily News.

At the time, the county auditor’s office didn’t consider these retire-rehires as a break in employment, so Medicare contributions were not withheld. However, IRS rules see retirement as a break in service. The auditor started withholding those contributions when the office realized the mistake had been made.

The county paid about $200,000 for both the employer and the employee portions of the unpaid Medicare taxes in July 2020.

The employees the county sought reimbursement from include former Greene County Prosecutor Stephen Haller and former Common Pleas Judge Stephen Wolaver, who have both retired from those positions since the lawsuit was filed. The other employees are Jewel Amburgy, Richard Bowman, Michael Brown, William Harden, Teri Lajeunesse, John La’Rock, Suzanne Schmidt and Terry Swisshelm.

The attorney for 10 Greene County employees who were being sued by the county previously told the Dayton Daily News that commissioners rejected offers to negotiate before a lawsuit was filed.

The attorney for the employees was not able to be reached for comment on this story.

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