Douglas County could be on the hook for $1 million after a judge ruled that retired county workers should pay the same for health care as current employees.
Two retired deputies sued Douglas County in 2009 after the County Board scaled back the premium subsidies paid to retirees until they become eligible for Medicare.
The lawsuit included employees covered by three bargaining units, each of which has a different premium rate, and nonunion workers. The county paid 93 percent of a single-coverage plan for a retired employee represented by the Fraternal Order of Police, for example. To save money, the board reduced premium supports to 75 percent.
That translated to an additional $83.42 a month paid by FOP retirees, or more if the employee was on a family plan, according to the lawsuit filed by Sam Christiansen and Rich McShane. It was later expanded to cover 257 employees under age 65 who retired before 2010, when the new policy kicked in.
The crux of the lawsuit was an implicit promise: For decades, the county told employees that they would have the same benefits after they retired. Changing that arrangement constituted a breach of contract, the plaintiffs argued.
“The people in the class need to be treated the same as active employees,” said Joel Bacon, a lawyer for the retirees.
Judge Gary Randall agreed in a March 8 ruling. Bacon said a stipulation calls for around $1 million in damages, and he's asking for $185,000 in attorney fees.
The county will decide whether to appeal after a final order is entered, County Administrator Patrick Bloomingdale said. Any damages would be paid out of a health insurance reserve fund, which has a balance of more than $11 million.
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