By Donald WittkowskiA former Ocean City lifeguard who lost his job after he narrowly failed a swimming test has been awarded nearly $128,000 by a Superior Court jury in his age-discrimination lawsuit against the municipality.Paul McCracken claimed in his litigation that city officials “concocted a scheme” to get rid of older lifeguards by imposing new fitness requirements that made the running and swimming tests required of the Beach Patrol members more rigorous.McCracken, of Linwood, who was 52 at the time, passed the running test but fell 3 seconds short of meeting the swimming requirements. He was fired in 2011 after failing the swim test, according to the suit.In a statement Wednesday, city spokesman Doug Bergen denied McCracken’s allegations. Bergen said the Ocean City Beach Patrol has maintained “an impeccable safety record in more than a century of protecting the island’s residents and visitors.”“For obvious reasons, the city maintains that it is not good practice to employ ocean lifeguards who are unable to pass the swimming test,” Bergen said. “The same standard applies to all returning guards who work on the beach.”The suit alleged that McCracken and other older lifeguards were forced to retire or take a cut in their pension benefits after the city removed $53,000 from the Beach Patrol’s budget during a fiscal crisis in 2008. The budget cut intentionally targeted the veteran lifeguards, the ligation stated.Lifeguards who “did not bow to the pension pressure” faced tougher running and swimming requirements so they could not qualify for their jobs, according to the suit.However, Bergen said the city unified the fitness requirements so that all of the lifeguards were required to meet the same standards. Previously, the requirements were based on a “tiered” system in which lifeguards took different tests based on their rank.McCracken’s suit, though, asserted that the city imposed the new standards under the “guise” that they were supposed to be a uniform test for all lifeguards.“In fact, the test was a deliberate target of the older senior lifeguards with no other purpose than to facilitate their removal from the Beach Patrol or forcing them to retire,” the suit said.Bergen said McCracken passed the new re-qualification test in 2009, but took off from the Beach Patrol the following year due to an off-season injury. Bergen confirmed that McCracken passed the running test, but failed the swimming requirements when he tried to return in 2011. McCracken then “refused” opportunities to re-take the swimming test, so he was not invited back to work for the Beach Patrol, Bergen stated.McCracken’s lawsuit went to trial in Cape May County Superior Court in July. Siding in McCracken’s favor, the jury awarded him $127,998. The award was confirmed in an order signed by Superior Court Judge Noah Bronkesh on July 27.The award was first reported on a blog run by John Paff, a government watchdog who is a member of the New Jersey Libertarian Party. The Superior Court released a copy of the judge’s order on Wednesday, the day after Paff posted the document on his blog.In an interview Wednesday, McCracken’s attorneys said McCracken was pleased with the award and felt “vindicated” by the jury’s verdict.“It came out during the trial that they wanted to get rid of older lifeguards and used the (fitness) policy to do that,” said Drake Bearden Jr., an attorney with the law firm Costello & Mains of Mount Laurel, N.J.Kevin Costello, a partner with Costello & Mains, said it was clear McCracken was mistreated.“This wasn’t a fair shake,” Costello said.But Bergen said the city believes McCracken’s claims are frivolous and chose to pursue a jury trial rather than settling the case.“With all due respect to the judicial process, we disagree with this verdict. The city is currently evaluating its options,” Bergen said.City Council, at its meeting 6 p.m. Thursday at City Hall, is scheduled to convene in closed session to discuss the McCracken litigation, according to the agenda. The litigation claimed that older lifeguards were targeted, but a city spokesman denies the allegations.
The unit-link product Skandia Basic similarly ended the quarter with higher returns than those posted in the first quarter – 2.5% to 4.4% versus 0.7% and 1.3% – but underperformed the benchmark in the second quarter.“This is because the reference index is denominated in US dollars, which rose significantly in value during the period,” Skandia Denmark said.Because of this, the Basic portfolio – although it was hedged against currency risk versus US dollars – lost ground against the reference index, it said.Skandia said its investment department had decided to overweight equities in the portfolio compared with bonds because financial markets had been hit in the second quarter by a series of measures from central banks to ease credit.But with Danish mortgage bonds making up the bulk of Skandia Denmark’s fixed income portfolio, fixed income returns had been boosted by a further reduction in interest rates, as well as the European Central Bank’s lending programme to the financial sector at the end of the quarter.“On top of this,” it added, “as a result of positive tendencies in emerging markets, we increased our exposure to government bonds from these countries.”In other news, PensionDanmark is investing DKK175m (€23.5m) in a commercial property in Copenhagen already let to a government agency.It is buying the asset from MP Pension, the Danish labour-market pension fund for academics run by Unipension.The building in the Østerbro district of the Danish capital is currently leased by the Danish Working Environment Authority (Arbejdstilsynet), and contains 14,273sqm of space.Torben Möger Pedersen, PensionDanmark’s chief executive, said: “We see this as a good real estate investment in an attractive location close to the S-train (urban rail network) and the coming metro station on the Cityring.”He said the pension fund had a very solid tenant in the Danish Working Environment Authority – and therefore the state – so the investment would give scheme members a good and stable return.PensionDanmark said, since it sold its entire residential property portfolio in June, it now had just under DKK10bn in overall real estate investments.In the next few years, the fund said it expected to make new investments in residential as well as commercial property of DKK2bn a year.At the moment, PensionDanmark is the developer of six large commercial construction projects, either alone or in cooperation with other investors.These include the Alfa Laval headquarters in Ålborg, Semco Maritime in Esbjerg, Nordea Bank Danmark in Ørestaden, NCC in Gladsaxe and, soon, MTH in Søborg, as well as the new psychiatric hospital in Vejle.Its next big residential project will be the construction on Islands Brygge in Copenhagen, which will include 550 new homes. Investment returns on unit-link pension products at Skandia Denmark undercut benchmarks in the second quarter of 2014, prompting the unit of Nordic financial group Skandia to sell shares in US companies.Reporting some results for the April to June period, Skandia Denmark said its Skandia Match unit-link pensions product had produced between 2.9% and 3.8%, up from the 2.6% to 3.1% range reported for the first quarter but lower than the reference index.The company said: “A significant reason for this are the falls partly on the Japanese stock market but particularly on the US market at the start of the quarter.“Skandia’s investment department has since reduced the exposure to both small and large US companies.”