Lawsuit against UC over health benefits for laboratory retirees progresses 9 years after filing

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A court case against the UC system over health benefits for retirees of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is expected to be heard by the Alameda County Superior Court almost a decade after it was first filed, according to Carl Whitaker, a public relations consultant for the retirees.

The laboratory was owned by the UC system until 2007, when it was transformed into a private sector “joint venture” under the jurisdiction of Lawrence Livermore National Security, or LLNS, a group that includes the UC system. When the transition occurred, retirees were transferred to the LLNS’s more expensive, lower-quality health care coverage, according to the case’s pretrial notes. The notes also allege that this broke the university’s implicit promise to provide lifelong health benefits.

A case was first brought before the court in 2010 with 10 petitioners, eight of whom are still alive. In 2014, it turned into a class-action suit involving 9,000 retirees, an estimated 7,000 of whom are still alive. According to Tom Sinclair, an attorney working for the plaintiffs on the case, a case of this magnitude requires three law firms to represent the plaintiffs: Sinclair Law Office, Calvo Fisher & Jacob, and Carter Carter Fries & Grunschlag.

“The retirees are on the verge of holding the University to account to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars,” Whitaker said in an email. He added that the court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in 2015, when the first part of the case was tried.

The profit that UC earns from the laboratory on an annual basis is roughly equal to the amount that it would cost to provide health care coverage for the retirees, according to Sinclair.

According to UC Office of the President spokesperson Sarah McBride, it would be “inappropriate” for UCOP to comment on ongoing litigation.

According to Sinclair, a tentative court date has been scheduled for June 11, at which a trial date will be set. He added that the date could be pushed back with the consent of both parties and said the plaintiffs and the UC system were working on reaching a settlement.

The purpose of the trial is to reinstate the retirees into the UC health care plan. If the plaintiffs win, the university may be required to pay financial compensation for damages, which would be awarded to the living participants in the suit and the spouses and dependents of the participants who have died since 2010, according to Sinclair.

“If we can find a way (to settle), we could avoid more years in court,” said the UC Livermore Retirees Group, which the plaintiffs are a part of, in an update from March. “At the same time, we recognize that any settlement must be fair to everyone in the class.”

Contact Katherine Finman at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @KateFinman_DC.