jurvetson/FlickrLawrence Livermore National Laboratory
A judge has ruled that the University of California does not have to provide university-sponsored medical benefits to retirees of the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, whose health benefits were altered after the lab's management changed in 2007.
Plaintiffs and Livermore Lab retirees Joe Requa, Wendell G. Moen, Jay Davis and Donna Ventura had filed a petition for writ of mandate in August, claiming the UC Board of Regents had breached its contract with the retirees by shifting their medical benefits to a new entity.
The lab retirees had argued that the university improperly separated them from the larger population of UC retirees, causing some of their monthly premiums and co-payments for medical visits and prescriptions to increase.
But on May 26, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch ruled that none of the documents presented by attorneys for the retirees constituted a contract.
"Despite petitioners' contentions, none of the handbook or booklet excerpts contain language clearly promising petitioners lifetime medical benefits at a specific level of benefits (or at all) in exchange for employment," Roesch wrote.
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Roesch also determined that the written materials never promised lifetime participation in the University of California employees' medical plan and were "replete with conditional language."
In a blog maintained by the former lab employees, Requa told fellow retirees that the judge's order reads like the country song chorus, "What part of 'no' don't you understand?"
"The judge and UC both kept talking about lifetime and eternal benefits, and that wasn't what we were asking for at all," Requa said in an interview. "What we were asking for was to join the other UC retirees and get the same benefits that they have. We realize it isn’t guaranteed for a lifetime."
The plaintiffs began working at the Livermore Lab as scientists, engineers and support staff in the 1960s and 1970s, when UC managed the lab on its own through a contract with the U.S. Department of Energy.
They all retired before 2007, when the Department of Energy awarded the Livermore Lab contract to a new operator, Lawrence Livermore National Security LLC, a private consortium that still includes UC but also includes Bechtel Corp., The Babcock & Wilcox Company, the Washington Division of URS Corp. and Battelle.
Up to that point, the retirees had received UC retiree medical benefits. But according to UC, the Department of Energy required the consortium to sponsor all medical benefits for Livermore Lab retirees – about 5,000 people by the retirees' lawyers' estimation.
The four plaintiffs started a website and raised $150,000 for a legal defense fund. One of their biggest concerns was that they had been pooled with a smaller, older and less healthy group of people by being separated from the rest of the UC retirees. They feared their benefits would become increasingly expensive as a result.
Requa said he plans to poll fellow retirees to gauge interest in raising the $75,000 it would cost to pursue an appeal.
"I'm perfectly willing to go ahead with the fight if we can find the weapons," Requa said.