Retirees objecting to pension settlement file separate lawsuit

PROVIDENCE – Fifty retired state employees and public school teachers have filed a lawsuit against the state of Rhode Island, objecting to their inclusion in the proposed class-action settlement of the state pension reform lawsuits.

In the lawsuit filed by Sean T. O’Leary of O’Leary Law Associates in Warwick, the retirees claim that the settlement “purports to include individuals in the class-action suit who have had no representation or involvement in the RIPERC suit” and that their claims are not adequately represented by a class-action suit that includes all affected retirees regardless of age or date of retirement.

All 50 of the retirees named as plaintiffs in the new lawsuit filed Thursday retired before the enactment of the pension reform act in 2011.

In addition, the lawsuit alleges that the state – represented by Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee, General Treasurer Gina M. Raimondo and the Employees Retirement System of Rhode Island – effectively breached its contract with public employees by altering the benefits public workers received under the ERSRI.

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Specifically, the suit cites the changes made to the cost-of-living adjustments initially provided for under the retirement system, claiming that “the State was required to and did promise all of the Plaintiffs, upon retirement, a three-percent compounded cost-of-living adjustment” and that the state did not inform the retirees before their retirement “that their respective Allowances and/or COLAs could or would ever be reduced, suspended or eliminated.”

Under the terms of the pension settlement proposed last month, retirees would receive some increased benefits compared with the 2011 law’s package, including a one-time cost-of-living adjustment of 2 percent on the first $25,000 retirement allowance, in exchange for dropping the lawsuit. Retirees would agree not to pursue their own claims relevant to the pension reform act.

The individuals who have now filed a separate lawsuit request a trial by jury seeking a declaratory judgment from the court that would rule they will not be included in the proposed class-action pension settlement at any time.

Chafee and Raimondo’s offices did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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