September 30, 2009 in Idaho

Idaho judge to rule in UI retirees lawsuit

Associated Press
 

A District Court judge will issue a written ruling in the lawsuit a group of 268 retirees filed against the University of Idaho over early retirement benefits.

Attorneys for both sides have filed motions asking 2nd District Judge John R. Stegner to rule in the lawsuit and end the case before it goes to trial.

Stegner heard arguments for summary judgment in the case Tuesday and said he would issue a written ruling in “due course,” the Lewiston Tribune reported.

A Moscow attorney representing the former university employees filed the lawsuit on their behalf last year. Stegner made it a class-action case in October 2008.

The former employees claim the university violated early retirement agreements signed in 1999 and 2002, reneging on a deal not to make them pay health insurance premiums.

“Promises have been broken 268 times,” attorney Ron Landeck said in court this week.

The retirees allege school officials unilaterally changed medical and life insurance benefits offered under the Early Retirement Incentive Program and again under the Voluntary Separation and Retirement Opportunities Program.

The changes forced them to chose between reduced medical benefits or paying a monthly premium to retain the same medical benefits, and the value of life insurance policies were reduced, the retirees say in their lawsuit.

In court, Landeck told Stegner that university administrators offered the programs as a cost-savings measure by encouraging early retirement and nowhere in the contracts did the school retain the right to alter the agreements.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt about that,” Stegner said in response.

But an Oregon attorney representing the University of Idaho in the lawsuit said school officials did retain the right to revise employment benefits.

“The regents reserve the right to amend, modify or terminate any benefit plan of any kind,” attorney Bruce Rubin said, reading from the university staff handbook in court.

The contracts should be considered in the context of overall university policy, which is stated in the staff handbook, Rubin said.

“Our position is a simple one,” he said. “The plaintiffs are not entitled to pick and choose which parts of documents they rely on.”

Landeck argued both parties intended the benefits to remain unchanged and in court, he showed video of a meeting between university officials, faculty and staff.

At one point, an unidentified employee asked if university officials would ever try to alter the benefits being offered in the contract.

The video recording shows Georgia Yuan, an attorney who represented the university at the time, responded.

“I think you’d all probably sue us,” Yuan said. “We have an obligation to you.”

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