The Maine State Employees Association has sued the state in federal court to try to get members reimbursed for longevity pay they lost during this past fiscal year.

The union, through attorney Jeffrey Neil Young, said the state’s denial of the pay is a case of age discrimination and employment discrimination.

Longevity pay rewards state employees according to their years of service. The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Maine.

“Because the elimination of longevity pay and scheduled longevity pay raises treats longer-term and older state employees less favorably than shorter-term and younger state employees, the Legislature’s enactment of SSS-4 violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” the lawsuit said.

Attorney General Janet Mills, whose office will defend the state, said the longevity pay has been restored.

“That’s why we’re baffled,” she said Tuesday. “They can’t legally get that back in this lawsuit. The claim is very defensible, in my book.”

The civil lawsuit names four employees from around the state as representative of those affected, including MSEA President Bruce Hodsdon, and indicates how much pay they lost as a result of the withdrawal of longevity pay.

Lawmakers had eliminated longevity pay in the spring of 2009 in a budget balancing move. In February, Gov. John Baldacci proposed to restore the longevity pay, and it was later put back into the budget year that began July 1.

For empoyees of the legislative and executive branches, longevity pay begins at 15 years with a 30-cent-per-hour pay increase. It bumps up to 40 cents at 20 years; 50 cents at 25 years. The judicial branch uses a different formula.

Hodsdon, the lead plaintiff, is a 32-year state employee who works in the executive branch and would have earned $20 a week or $1,040 a year in longevity pay.

Maurice Fournier, of Lewiston, a 21-year state employee who works in the judicial branch received $2,746 per year as longevity pay,

Penny Whitney-Asdourian, of Scarborough, a 32-year state employee who works in the judicial branch, received $40 a week — or $2,080 a year — as longevity pay.

Scott Woodruff, of Brunswick, a 40-year state employee, who works in the executive branch, received $20 a week or $1,040 as longevity pay.

Young, the attorney, said reimbursing all affected employees for lost longevity pay would cost the state about $2 million.

All four individuals initially filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Maine Human Rights Commission prior to joining in the federal lawsuit.

The lawsuit says, “All told, 4,936 employees age 40 and over lost longevity pay, while only 287 under age 40 suffered a similar loss.”

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]