Livermore Lab retirees may appeal benefits lawsuit decision

UC retirees who worked at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory were left to consider an appeal May 26 after the Alameda County Superior Court ruled in favor of the UC Board of Regents after a nine-month petition process revolving around retirement health benefits.

The UC Livermore Retiree Group — whose health benefits were altered in September 2008 after the lab’s management was taken over by Lawrence Livermore National Security LLC — sued the board over claims that the UC allowed premiums and co-payments to be raised in 2008. The retiree group will have 60 days from the filing of the final court judgment to enter an appeal.

Joe Requa, president of the group and a petitioner in the case, worked for the lab for roughly 40 years and said he believes health benefits were compromised after the UC transferred ownership in 2007 from the U.S. Department of Energy to the Lawrence Livermore National Security, a government consortium of private companies that now includes the UC.

“All we want is the same benefits that other UC retirees are getting — in court, we believe we are being mistreated because we are being singled out from the other retirees,” Requa said. “Secondly, if the UC does in fact owe us something, it seems odd that they make changes to our medical policy.”

The retiree group has already spent over $150,000 for the lawsuit and will have to raise an additional $75,000 to afford to file an appeal to the Alameda County Superior Court, which sustained the regents’ demurrer — a legal attack that is essentially a request to throw out a case — allowing the UC to win the case and disallowing the group to reopen it without the appeal.

“My view is that the law is not what is reflected in this trial court’s order,” said Dov Grunschlag, an attorney for the plaintiffs. “The petition that we filed sufficiently states the claim for continued health benefits for UC retirees that worked at this lab for a period of retirement under whatever medical insurance plans that the UC provides to all its retirees.”

Though the retiree group is still unsure of whether to take action, Charles Robinson, the UC’s vice president and general counsel for legal affairs, said the board is satisfied with the lawsuit’s outcome.

Similarly, Lawrence Livermore National Security maintains that medical care was still offered during the entirety of the lawsuit and has not stopped as a result of the original transfer.

“As part of the requirement by the contract transferred from the Department of Energy, the (Lawrence Livermore National Security) was required to sponsor all medical benefits and had to be similar to the benefits offered by UC — these benefits never discontinued during the lawsuit,” said Lynda Seaver, a spokesperson for Lawrence Livermore National Security.

However, most retirees said they are still frustrated with the university’s bureaucracy and still believe the university has not been able to provide proper health care benefits.

“We trusted the integrity of the university, and we were there because we felt it was a worthwhile mission,” said Wendell Moen, a lab retiree and a plaintiff in the case. “As an older person, in the long run, risks will be higher and costs will be higher, and frankly, I don’t think they did treat us right.”

Going forward, retirees said they will look to their group’s members to decide if raising additional fees is feasible in order to file an appeal. Should they find that they are able to raise enough money, they will make a decision in the coming month regarding further litigation.

“I think the one thing that is important from a policy and fairness perspective is that if their coverage can be terminated by UC, then no UC retiree is safe from this kind of treatment, and everyone is at risk of having insurance terminated or drastically modified,” Grunschlag said