Lawsuit Possible to Regain UC Health Care

 

By The Independent

 

    Those who were hired at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory before 1990 appear to have a “viable claim” to be reinstated to University of California health programs, according to attorneys for the Lawrence Livermore Laboratory Retiree Group.

    Those who retired in 1990 or later might also have a claim. However, it could be less solid because 1990 seems to be the first year that UC Regents reserved the right to make unilateral changes to retiree benefits.

    The attorneys have formed tentative conclusions based on interviews and on public documents as well as those contained in the files of retirees.  To find out for sure, the attorneys advise, it will be necessary to file suit to determine whether there are still more documents indicating what claims the Regents made, when they made them, and how they communicated them to retirees if at all.

    Lawrence Livermore Lab employees and retirees were provided UC group health coverage under a succession of contracts that lasted more than 50 years but ended in 2008, when a new contractor took over Laboratory management from University of California.  At the time, the new contract promised continued benefits that were “substantially equivalent” to UC’s. However, the new contractor changed them a year later.

    In order to take the next step toward regaining UC health benefits, Retiree Group leader Joe Requa says, the group will need to generate a budget of $75,000 to $150,000 to cover legal costs.

    In an email earlier this month, he surveyed Retiree Group members to learn whether they would support the continued effort, including raising more money.  Most responders are willing to do so, he said.  Retiree Group leaders will soon meet to discuss next steps, including whether to conduct a formal ballot before undertaking a major fund-raising effort, he said.

    The group already has financial reserves.  Last summer, while emphasizing its wish to avoid legal action, it raised some $80,000 — more than enough to hire three legal firms for an analysis based on their expertise in labor, employment and administration issues.

    Further fund-raising is needed to be sure the group’s Legal Defense Fund can cover all costs prior to signing a contract for formal legal action, Requa says.

    The next legal step would include a court-enforced “discovery” process in which UC is required to produce relevant documents.

    “Between 1962 and 2005, the Regents passed or modified provisions relating to retiree medical benefits more than one hundred times,” Requa wrote in an email to Retiree Group members.  Most of the older records are “available only on microfiche,” which must be examined through multiple appointments to visit UC’s Office of the President – an impracticable task, he said.  Newer records are on line but are less relevant to the retiree case.

    “By filing suit, we should be able to compel UC to provide all of the relevant records as part of the ‘discovery’ process.”

    That would not be the end of the legal action or of costs, however, he advised retirees.  The following step, if retirees were willing to proceed, would be a trial or hearing in which “retirees are required to prove…that we are entitled to an injunction (or the equivalent) returning us to the UC system, or alternatively, to an award of monetary damages.”

    He compared the situation to a poker game in which “the hand looks favorable and we need to decide whether to fold or match the current bid. If we match the current bid and get a poor hand we can fold. If we get a good hand, we will have to decide if we can afford to stay in the game, unless the opposition folds.

    “The amount we need to stay in the game for the moment is probably in the $75,000 to $150,000 range.”

    Longer term, “if a lawsuit were successful,” he wrote in his email, “a court could order the Regents to return LLNL retirees to the UC system.  Alternatively, a court could order the Regents to pay monetary damages to LLNL retirees who have suffered losses as a result of the changes made by Extend Health, Inc. at the request of LLNS.”