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Fired Senior Lifeguard Wins Discrimination Case Against Jersey Shore Town

a lifeguard exercising atop a rowboat as people walk on the beach in Ocean City
Ocean City (AP Photo/Wayne Parry)

OCEAN CITY — A former lifeguard who says he was fired because of his age recently won an age discrimination lawsuit against a Jersey Shore municipality that has faced multiple discrimination complaints by older lifeguards.

A Cape May County jury in July awarded Paul McCracken $127,988.

The lawsuit was filed in 2013. McCracken had been fired in 2011, when the Linwood resident was 52 years old.

When the lawsuit was filed, the resort city had paid out $575,000 to settle unrelated lawsuits by three other lifeguards, according to published reports at the time.

A spokesman for the municipality said Wednesday that officials disagree with the verdict and are considering whether to appeal.

McCracken’s lawsuit claimed that Ocean City made all lifeguards take running and swimming tests, regardless of their age or job description, even though senior lifeguards in administrative positions like McCracken had previously been exempt. The city denies that senior lifeguards were exempt from requalification testing.

The lawsuit said this was a scheme to push out older, higher-paid lifeguards.

The supposed targeting of the older lifeguards began in 2008 when the cash-strapped city took $53,000 from the budget used to pay senior lifeguards and transferred it to the fire department. The city then cut the hours for senior lifeguards, forcing them to retire so they could avoid taking a hit on their pensions. Pension payments are calculated using the salary paid to a worker in the years immediately before retirement.

McCracken, however, stayed on, which is why the city implemented the new tests, the lawsuit said.

Even though the tests were supposedly for all lifeguards, the Beach Patrol’s 62-year-old operations director was exempt, the lawsuit said.

McCracken was fired after he passed the running test but failed the timed swim test by 3 seconds. The lawsuit says McCracken took the tests despite an injury.

Doug Bergen, a spokesman for Ocean City, says McCracken’s claims are “frivolous.”

The city maintains that McCracken passed the first season of the unified lifeguard tests. He failed the swimming portion when he tested again two seasons later. Bergen said McCracken was not rehired after he declined to retake the swimming test.

“The Ocean City Beach Patrol has maintained an impeccable safety record in more than a century of protecting the island’s residents and visitors,” Bergen said Wednesday. “For obvious reasons, the city maintains that it is not good practice to employ ocean lifeguards who are unable to pass the swimming test. The same standard applies to all returning guards who work on the beach.”

The jury verdict was published online Tuesday by open-government advocate John Paff, who often shares information regarding lawsuits against public entities in the state.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article was updated to include comments by a city spokesman.

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