CHICAGO — A retired Lake County police officer who lost a lawsuit to increase his disability pension won’t have to pay crippling legal fees.
Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals judges ruled this week Thomas Ostrowski doesn’t owe Lake County government officials $226,000 for suing them four years ago.
Appeals court judges did uphold the dismissal of Ostrowski’s suit on grounds, ruling the county’s police pension plan may legally deny cost-of-living increases to disabled officers, like Ostrowski.
Nevertheless, Ostrowski told The Times this week he may still pursue that issue in Indiana state courts.
Ostrowski is a longtime critic of county officials for refusing to pay higher disability payments to him and other county police officers.
The 58-year-old was a county police officer from the late 1990s until a training accident and back surgery in 2003 left him too disabled to work for the county police department.
Since then Ostrowski has lived on fixed disability payments while officers on routine non-disabled retirement regularly receive cost-of-living increases.
Ostrowski has repeatedly demanded county officials eliminate the disparity, but they reply his demands would have cost county taxpayers an additional $247,000 a year.
He sued over the issue three years ago.
U.S. District Court Judge Robert L. Miller ruled against Ostrowski last year on grounds Ostrowski violated an agreement he signed five years ago to not pursue new claims over disability — after accepting a cash settlement over working conditions at the county’s 911 center where Ostrowski was a dispatcher from 2014 to 2015.
He quit because the county didn’t accommodate his back pains.
Miller further ruled Ostrowski owed his former employer $226,000 in the legal fees it cost taxpayers to defend against his suit. Ostrowski had to file for bankruptcy.
The appeals court ruled in a 14-page opinion that Ostrowski’s prior settlement doesn’t stop him from filing a new suit against the county.
Nevertheless, the appellate judges further decided the county’s two-track pension payment system wasn’t illegally discriminatory because disabled officers receive more upfront money at retirement even though they may not have worked as many years as other non-disabled officers.