Superior Court Rules Police Officers Entitled To Quinn Bill Benefits
A Boston Police officer and a Wellesley police sergeant received good news this week when Superior Court judge Carol Ball ruled that the state Board of Higher Education had to certify their master’s degrees in criminal justice as eligible for benefits under the Quinn Bill educational incentive program. [The decision can be found here.] Boston Police Officer Miguelangelo Pires and Wellesley Sergeant Glen Gerrans, with the support of their unions, the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association and the Massachusetts Coalition of Police, sued the Board of Higher Ed after the Board refused to allow them to earn Quinn Bill educational incentive benefits for their master’s degrees.
The case arose after the Legislature amended the Quinn Bill – which provides salary increases for police officers who earn advanced degrees in law and law enforcement – to tighten the academic requirements for the educational institutions where officers were earning their degrees. The new academic restrictions eliminated a number of schools from the list of eligible institutions, but a grandfather clause in the legislation stated that anyone enrolled in one of the previously-listed schools before January 1, 2004, could continue in that program and his or her degree would qualify for Quinn Bill benefits. Both Officer Pires and Sgt. Gerrans registered for classes in the Boston University master’s program in the fall of 2003, but they didn’t start classes until after January 1, 2004. After they completed their degrees in 2005, the Board of Higher Education refused to approve them. According to the Board, ‘enrolled’ meant ‘taking classes’, so in its view Pires and Gerrans weren’t enrolled in time to fall under the grandfather clause.
The officers approached their unions, who enlisted the help of Sandulli Grace attorneys Joseph Sandulli and Susan Horwitz, who attempted to negotiate with the Board of Higher Education to resolve this issue, which did not involve many officers. Ultimately, negotiations broke down and Sandulli Grace attorney John M. Becker filed a lawsuit on behalf of Pires and Gerrans against the Board of Higher Education. The officers argued that the plain meaning of ‘enrolled’ is to register and that the Board’s interpretation of enrolled as taking classes was inconsistent with common understanding and legal precedents. This week, a Superior Court judge agreed with the police officers and ruled that they were covered by the grandfather clause and so are entitled to Quinn Bill benefits for their master’s degrees. As the judge stated, “the meaning of ‘enrolled’ is limited to registration, and as such, reflects the intent of the Legislature to permit police officers who have registered for degrees in criminal justice programs certified by the Board prior to January 1, 2004 to benefit from their efforts toward obtaining further education.” Congratulations to Officer Pires and Sgt. Gerrans – their efforts toward obtaining further education are finally paying off.