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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 lawsuits by three other lifeguards, according to published reports at the time.

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

The 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.

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.

City officials could not be reached for comment Tuesday evening.

Sergio Bichao is deputy digital editor at New Jersey 101.5. Send him news tips: Call 609-359-5348 or email sergio.bichao@townsquaremedia.com.

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