Settlement in Pension Spat With R.I. Teachers

     PROVIDENCE, R.I. (CN) – Public school teachers and other Rhode Island public employees have settled years-long litigation over retirement-system changes.
     The state employees went to court after the state passed two laws in 2009 and 2010 that added three years to the retirement age for vested workers, reduced the total maximum benefits achievable for some employees and eliminated retirement based solely on years of service.
     Last week, Rhode Island Public Employees’ Retiree Coalition and others filed a complaint in superior court to implement an April 2 settlement with the state.
     The action notes that in 2011 the state wrongfully eliminated COLA, short for Cost-of-Living Adjustment, benefits, which offered automatic annual 3 percent increase to base pension benefits.
     A judge should find, according to the complaint, that the recent changes to the state retirement system “contravenes the due process, contract and taking clauses of the Rhode Island Constitution,” and are unconstitutional.
     The state employees also seek two injunctions: one for preventing the state from applying the 2009 and 2010 changes in the state retirement system to employees with at least 10 years of service or who are already retired, and the other to reinstate COLA benefits to employees who had them in 2011.
     Aside from equitable relief, the plaintiffs also seek an award for the cost of the suit.
     Barrington, Middletown and South Kingstown are the three towns listed as defendants, along with the governor, the state treasurer and the Employee’s Retirement System of the State of Rhode Island.
     The coalition was joined as a plaintiff by individuals including retired teachers and firefighters, and their unions, including the National Education Association, AFSCME and the SEIU.
     The class is represented by Lynette Labinger with Roney & Labinger and other attorneys.

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