A judge refused Wednesday to bar the state retirement system from reducing by more than $7,000 the $24,000-plus in monthly retirement benefits that former Southern University System President Ralph Slaughter receives.
State District Judge Mike Caldwell, however, said he could order the Louisiana State Employees Retirement System to return the money to Slaughter if Slaughter is successful at trial in the lawsuit he filed against LASERS last month.
Slaughter contends his total $468,000 pay package from Southern, which included a $200,000 salary supplement paid to the state on behalf of Southern by the private Southern University System Foundation, should be used in calculating his monthly retirement benefits.
LASERS maintains the $200,000 supplement should be excluded from the calculation. The retirement system intends to reduce Slaughter’s future monthly retirement benefits by $7,092 and officials say they will try to collect for past overpayments.
“We can move forward. Absolutely,” LASERS attorney Tina Grant said after Wednesday’s hearing in the case.
Caldwell said the issue of the salary supplement will be decided at a later trial in his courtroom.
“We’re going to have a trial on the merits on this issue, finally,” one of Slaughter’s attorneys, John McLindon, said after the hearing.
Slaughter has been contesting the retirement benefit issue since 2009, when his contract expired and the Southern Board of Supervisors refused to keep him as president. That two-year contract was the result of a settlement of Slaughter’s 2007 litigation against the board.
Slaughter, who alleges he was wrongfully terminated, has remained in litigation with Southern ever since he lost his job.
Two years ago this month, state District Judge Todd Hernandez dismissed LASERS’ effort to withhold $7,092 in monthly retirement benefits from Slaughter and ordered the retirement system to return $7,092 that had been withheld from Slaughter in May of 2010.
Slaughter receives $24,487 in monthly benefits for decades of work at Southern and other state agencies.
McClindon, who said taxes are deducted from the $468,000, argued Wednesday that LASERS is now trying to do what Hernandez said it could not do in 2010.
“This has already been decided,” he told Caldwell. “They chose not to appeal it.”
Grant countered that the retirement system had merely asked Hernandez to deposit into the court registry monies that had been withheld from Slaughter’s monthly retirement benefits until there could be a final resolution on the issue.
Grant argued that it was Southern who first reported to LASERS that the university had made an error in reporting Slaughter’s compensation. She said it is LASERS’ responsibility to correct any error.
“I can only pay what is due,’’ Grant told Caldwell. “I’m not doing anything unlawful or unconstitutional.”
LASERS sent Slaughter a letter April 27 saying it intended to retroactively reduce his retirement benefits starting June 1, but Caldwell issued a temporary restraining order against the retirement system in response to Slaughter’s May 30 suit.
Caldwell recalled the restraining order Wednesday and vacated it.
In January, the Louisiana Supreme Court affirmed state District Judge Tim Kelley’s ruling in December 2009 that based Slaughter’s accrued vacation and sick leave time on his $220,000 base salary — not on his total pay package that included the salary supplement.
Slaughter also is suing in state and federal courts for retaliation and wrongful termination by the Southern Board.
He contends his decision in 2007 to report allegations of sexual harassment against former board Chairman Johnny Anderson began the demise of his career.