JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4)– The West Metro Fire Protection District has reached an agreement to pay 70 retired firefighters and their families $1.2 million to settle a class action lawsuit over retiree health benefits.
“This was never about the money involved”, said retired firefighter Tim O’Hayre, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. “This was always about morals and ethics.”
The former firefighters had sued the district over about $1.8 million in a retiree health account believing the department mishandled the money. Many retirees had contributed a portion of their salaries to a department administered health insurance fund starting in 1996, believing the money would be used to defray medical insurance during their retirements.
But in 2015, the department decided it would not be able to fund retiree medical benefits terming them an “unfunded liability.” The department said if it continued funding retiree medical benefits it could potentially fall $15 million behind in funding and would have little money left to actually pay for firefighting operations. The retirees were notified their medical insurance would be phased out and end in 2017. The $1.8 million in the retiree health fund was turned over to current firefighters for their use with their medical expenses when they retired.
O’Hayre said that accepting the settlement “was without a doubt the best for all involved retirees.”
The tentative settlement allows up to $400,000 in attorney’s fees for the firefighters lawyers. In the end, the 70 firefighters should have about $750,000 to divvy up between them to help address their medical expenses.
The settlement says the fire district disputes the lawsuits claims and contentions and is not admitting liablity or wrongdoing of any kind.
Don Lombardi, West Metro’s Fire Chief, told CBS4 the settlement is “purely a business decision.”
He went on to say “We still think we did everything correctly.”
A judge still has to approve the settlement agreement.
Tim O’Hayre told CBS4, “No place in society today are retired emergency response personnel treated in this manner except here. We should never have had to deal with this.”