After the South Carolina Supreme Court ruled in their favor this week, several Columbia attorneys are searching for former State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) employees they believe are owed back pay for returning to work after retirement.
The Supreme Court unanimously ruled Tuesday that two retired SLED agents can try to recover thousands of dollars they say was improperly taken from their paychecks. The agents sued the agency last year, saying officials took more than 13 percent of their pay each month to pay the employer’s portion of their retirement benefits.
“It’s a typical example of government trying to take advantage of little people,” said attorney Cam Lee, who represented the employees.
Under state law, some state employees can retire, begin drawing benefits, and then get re-hired back. But, in this case, SLED required the employees to sign a contract that allowed the agency to dock 13.6 percent from their paychecks to cover the employers’ contribution for their retirement.
“Part of their budgetary allowance is the money to pay the employer contributions,” Lee said, “so what they’re doing is keeping the money… You shouldn’t be able to get the budget for that and then not use it for what you’re supposed to.”
The state Attorney General’s office had argued the former employees needed to argue their case in an administrative hearing in the South Carolina Retirement System, not through a lawsuit. However, the Supreme Court said the employees could use the courts, pointing out the administrative hearings were only for disputes with the Retirement System, not other state agencies.
“It is clear the legislature intended for the Retirement Act to apply to disputes between the enumerated retirement systems and their respective members,” Justice John Kittredge wrote in the decision.
Lee and the other attorneys in the case say they are now looking to see if other employees could be enrolled in a class-action lawsuit against SLED.