Woman With Terminal Cancer Denied Pension
by Ben Hall
NASHVILLE, Tenn.- She worked a lifetime to earn a pension.
But when a longtime Metro employee retired, she didn't get it.
A NewsChannel 5 investigation raises questions about whether negligence by Metro cost Mavis Combs, and her family, a pension worth an nearly $250,000.
Vickie Spurlock was brought to tears as she remembered her mom's struggle with lung cancer and her struggle with Metro, to get her pension.
"She never dreamed they would treat her this way in the end," she said crying.
Mavis Combs spent nearly 40 years in law enforcement.
For most of those years, she was a secretary with Metro Police Department. She kept working even after being diagnosed with cancer.
"She'd have her chemo and go back to work," Spurlock remembers.
When it got to be too much, Combs finally retired in 2009, at the age of 72, and applied for her pension.
She wanted a lump sum payment to be paid immediately, and even signed papers she believed declared her grandchildren beneficiaries.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Spurlock, "She made her intentions known?"
"Oh yes," Spurlock responded.
But Metro sent Combs a letter in January 2010, stating it could not begin processing her pension until she provided a copy of her social security card, even though her social security number appeared in her employee file more than 70 times.
"My mom did not have her social security card," Spurlock said. "She was 72. She didn't know where it was."
While Combs family frantically searched for the original social security card, they repeatedly called Metro looking for other options, but the family did not get called back.
"She was in a wheelchair, on oxygen. She did everything she could do," Spurlock remembered. "She told me they want me to die so they can keep my money."
Combs' family finally obtained a printout from the social security office, but after weeks of calling they were still unable to reach the Metro employee handling Comb's pension.
Combs died two days after they got the printout, on February 7, 2010.
Metro denied her pension because she never completed the application process.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates discovered an internal email from the Metro Human Relations Department that proves the employee responsible for processing Combs' pension received numerous calls from the family, that she did not return.
When her supervisors showed her a list of the missed calls, she wrote, "I'm certain I wasn't aware of so many calls."
Our investigation discovered the Metro employee assigned to her case, Pamela McInish, was later forced to resign.
Her personnel file states that she had received poor evaluations for "not returning phone calls and for "causing pensioners not to receive their checks" on time.
Yet she was assigned the pension application of a long-time employee dying of cancer.
Attorney Ray Akers sued Metro on behalf of Combs' family.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates showed him the employee's personnel file.
"It's absurd because this is not the first time this employee has dropped the ball," Akers said. "They knew she was terminally ill. They knew the employee was not returning calls and not being responsive."
But last year a judge threw out the lawsuit because Combs had not completed the appropriate paperwork before she died.
It allows Metro to keep the entire pension.
"I believe they stole her money," Spurlock said.
B.R. Hall is an elected member of the Pension Committee of the Employee Benefit Board. He says Metro should have bent over backward to help Combs and not delayed her case by asking for a social security card.
"The fact that we held it up for that reason is just and injustice," Hall said.
Attorney Ray Akers took it a step further, "I would love to see them step up to the plate and say, 'we messed up and we are sorry and we're going to make this right.'"
The family wants Metro to fulfill Mavis Combs' dying wish.
"You can't even tell where my mom is buried because we don't have the money for a headstone," Spurlock said in tears. "And yet a quarter of a million dollars of my mom's money is sitting there."
Metro said it could not comment on the case because it still under appeal. The judge in the initial case had not seen McInish's personnel file because she was forced out a year later. Metro divided approximately $3000 among her three grandchildren. It was a refund of the amount of money Combs had contributed to the Pension system before 1987.
Ironically, if Combs had been married or had dependent children, Metro would have processed her pension and provided it to them even without her filling out the paperwork.
Metro's current law says if you are not married and do not have dependent children, and you died before filling out all the paperwork, then Metro keeps the pension.
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