Retirees begin raising funds to support appeal of ruling

7/14/11

            A group of Lawrence Livermore Laboratory retirees plans to appeal a superior court judge's ruling that rejected their effort to force the University of California into taking them back into UC medical care programs.

            The UC Livermore Lab Retirees Group has raised about $16,000, or almost one-third of the $50,000 it needs to get the appeal underway, said Joe Requa, head of the group.

            The Group filed suit last August after more than a year of informal efforts failed to restore UC group medical coverage.  That coverage had been ended in 2008 when a for-profit contractor took over Laboratory management from the University.

            Attorneys for the Retirees Group argued that the University was obligated to honor an implicit contract to continue providing the benefits, but Judge Frank Roesch ruled in May that they had failed to demonstrate any such contract.

            The Retirees Group then conducted an online survey of members.  While the survey is not yet complete, returns to date suggest that "everyone seems to be in favor" of appealing, Requa said. 

            A key legal question for the appeal is the timing and outcome of an implied contract lawsuit now in California Supreme Court over medical benefits for Orange County employees.  The suit was filed in federal court, which referred it to the state to determine California law governing implied contracts.

            If the ruling favors Orange County employees, who want to maintain medical coverage in the face of budget-driven cuts, the appeals case for the Livermore retirees may be strengthened, the group's attorneys believe.  The Livermore appeal must be filed by August 8 to keep the retirees' case alive.  After that, Roesch's decision would be final and the Orange County decision would have no impact.

            In an email to retirees earlier this month, Requa said that the appeal might take a year to resolve.  The case will not involve submitting new material but will be based on the argument that the judge committed an error by taking an "exceptionally narrow view" of implied contracts.  Thus the ruling on the Orange County suit, expected in the next six months, may be in time to influence the appeals court.

            To Jay Davis, a former associate director at the Lawrence Laboratory and one of the plaintiffs in the retiree suit, the appeal is worth the effort because of concerns about the future. 

            With no more Lab employees retiring from the University system, the number of UC-Lab retirees can only decline, leaving a diminishing, aging and unprotected pool at the mercy of benefits decisions made by new contractors who never worked with the current retirees, he says.

            He notes that the University-administered medical benefits system was relatively simple and user-friendly, and still is for UC employees and retirees from the campuses.  Now, under the Livermore Lab's for-profit contract, it has become much more complex even for younger, healthier retirees.  How well can a much older person, perhaps living far away, perhaps isolated or confused, make it work? he wonders rhetorically.

            While he hasn't been hurt financially by the changes to date, "15 or 20 years down the road" the situation is much more dangerous, he says.