Good. This is an important case.
WEST BEND – A lawyer for 90 retired Germantown teachers asked a jury Monday to award them more than $9 million in damages from their former employer, who the retirees say took their affordable long-term care insurance in a political power play after passage of Wisconsin’s Act 10 law.
The district’s attorney urged jurors to reject liability under all three of the plaintiffs’ theories. “They ignored it (a warning that the insurance plan could terminate) and now they want to blame the school district,” Kevin Pollard said.
The lawyers’ closing arguments came after a weeklong trial, but it took the jury just an afternoon to decide the district owed nothing to the retirees.
Basically, here’s the deal… nearly 20 years ago, the Germantown school district agreed to give the employees long-term care insurance. As part of that, employees who retired were allowed to continue to purchase the same insurance at the same rate as current employees. After Act 10 empowered the school board, they revised their benefits package and eliminated the long-term care insurance option, thus also eliminating it for retirees. The insurance company, WEA Trust, would allow the retirees to maintain their insurance if they paid all of the premiums up front – about $35k – but many of the retirees couldn’t afford it continue the coverage.
The retirees’ argument was essentially that once a benefit was granted, the school board and taxpayers were obligated to continue that benefit for all time. Obviously, if the retirees were successful in their argument, it would severely limit the ability of school boards to make adjustments to benefit packages over time to manage costs and expectations. Such a ruling would have also hurt future employees because it would have discouraged school boards from ever offering additional benefits. After all, would you want to offer a creative new benefit if you knew that it would obligate the taxpayers to pay that benefit for eternity? Also, if a benefit granted can never be rescinded, school boards would have a hard time replacing one benefit with another one that the employees want more.
Thankfully, the jury had some common sense.