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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

UI retirees sue over benefits changes

By JESSIE L. BONNER Associated Press

BOISE – Some former employees of the University of Idaho are suing the school and the state Board of Education, claiming unauthorized changes were made to their insurance benefits.

The lawsuit stems from a tort claim four retirees filed in December saying the university violated retirement agreements signed in 1999 and 2002. They contend the school went back on a deal not to make them pay for health insurance premiums.

The university declined to resolve the claim within 90 days after it was filed, which left the former employees free to pursue their grievance in court.

Moscow attorney Ron Landeck, who represents the retirees, filed the lawsuit Monday in 2nd District Court.

An estimated 270 former employees were affected by policy revisions made last year, Landeck said.

Retirees have tried unsuccessfully to resolve their complaints with the Board of Education, Secretary of State Ben Ysursa and former University of Idaho President Tim White. The lawsuit was a last resort, said Arthur Smith, a 65-year-old former law professor and one of the retirees who filed the initial claim.

“I thought, given the clarity of the contracts, there’d be some sort of meeting of the minds,” Smith said. “We’ve tried everything short of litigation.”

The university is aware the lawsuit was filed, but does not comment on pending or ongoing litigation, university spokeswoman Joni Kirk said.

The Board of Education was also named because it acts as the university’s Board of Regents.

According to the claim, the university offered early retirement packages to staff and faculty in 1999 and 2002 to offset budget deficits. Retirees say the university agreed to pay the full tab for medical and life insurance premiums, but last year revised those benefits.

Early retirees were given the option of reduced medical coverage, or paying $240 extra each year to keep the same policy. For life insurance, benefits awarded in the contracts were based on salaries and in some cases were valued at $75,000, but have since been reduced by the university to $10,000, retirees say.

Retirees have raised nearly $15,000 to pay for the lawsuit, said Wileen Anderson, 61, who is also among retirees who filed the initial claim.