Ayres Granted Negotiating Power By Judge

OCEAN CITY — If the town of Ocean City reaches a settlement next week in a civil suit filed last September alleging age bias and discrimination in its hiring practices, City Solicitor Guy Ayres will be able to negotiate the pending agreement with members of the City Council present, a federal judge ruled this week.

Last September, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit in U.S. District Court against the Mayor and Council for allegedly violating the Age Discrimination and Employment Act (ADEA). In its formal complaint, the EEOC alleges Ocean City discriminated against a long-time municipal airport employee when he was first passed over for promotion to an airport associate position and later removed from his original position in retaliation for filing the complaint.

A year later, the case is moving closer to resolution with a settlement conference scheduled for next Thursday. In August, a federal judge warned the parties a settlement could not be reached without an official representative present.

“It is essential that the parties, or in the case of a corporation, partnership or government entity, a representative with complete authority to enter into a binding settlement, be present in person,” the judge’s order reads. “Attendance by the attorney for a party is not sufficient.”

However, Ayres petitioned the judge to allow him to negotiate a settlement and to later take the terms of that settlement back to the council for approval.

“By its charter, a settlement of this case could require the affirmative vote of four members of the City Council,” Ayres’ letter to the judge reads. “While it is not impossible, it is certainly impractical to convene a council meeting at the U.S. District Court if a settlement might be attainable.”

Ayres said in the letter the time-honored practice of the council approving settlements after the fact has been accepted in the past.

“In the past, I have attended settlement conferences with the mayor or council president, or other member, and if a settlement is reached, have then, at the next council meeting, sought the approval of the settlement,” the letter reads. “I might add that I have been the city solicitor for over 29 years, and during that entire time, the council has never rejected a settlement recommendation from me.”

This week, the federal judge agreed to honor the prior arrangement.

“Never in all these years has a judge turned down a request to do it this way, nor has the council ever turned down a settlement I’ve brought before them,” he said.