Judge Amends Order on Retiree Benefits

     SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – A federal judge amended her ruling that Sonoma County did not promise lifetime health care to retirees who were hired before 1990.
     U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken on Wednesday agreed to reconsider the Sonoma County Association of Retired Employees’ claim.
      Wilken said her opinion was changed by SCARE’s presentation of more than 500,000 pages of discovery documents that demonstrate the county’s intent to provide pre-1990 hires with retirement medical benefits “at least as favorable” as those for post-1990 hires.
     Darin Ranahan, who represents SCARE, said in an interview that the documents included decades of county records, including memoranda of understanding on public sector collective bargaining agreements, and notes and minutes of the negotiations.
     Judge Wilken found that 15 witnesses testified that the MOUs were not intended to preclude pre-1990 hires from retiree medical benefits, and that a deposition by Ray Myers, the former employee relations manager for the county, supported that conclusion.
     “While none of the MOUs include explicit mandatory language committing the County to provide healthcare benefits for retirees hired before 1990, the decision to include the practice in MOUs ratified by resolution and to link the benefits of retirees hired post-1990 to those of retirees hired before 1990 supports that SCARE sufficiently alleges that the County intended to promise healthcare benefits for retirees hired before 1990,” Wilken wrote.
     Also Thursday, Wilken issued an amended order granting in part the county’s motion to dismiss SCARE’s claims. She will allow SCARE to proceed on claims implied in certain MOUs but not in others, nor on claims based on promises in an alleged 1985 “tie agreement.”
     Raymond Lynch, who represents the county, said that Wilken’s changes affect the case on only a minor level.
     “I don’t think that the order really materially changes the case at all from what it was before,” he said.
     Officers with Sonoma County could not be reached for comment Thursday.
     Ranahan is with Lewis Feinberg in Oakland, Lynch with Hanson Bridgett in San Francisco.

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