Former city workers win in insurance case

A jury awarded four former Medford city employees nearly $283,000 collectively in damages today following a three-day trial during which they claimed they were forced to pay for high-cost insurance when the city declined to extend their health insurance coverage after they retired early.

The ruling was far below the $500,000 each man was asking in emotional distress. In addition, each man demanded $90,000 for economic damages they claimed to suffer after being forced to purchase pricey, high-risk insurance once they were taken off the city's policy.

Former City Attorney Ron Doyle, who resigned in 2005, was awarded $61,142 in financial damages; Robert Deuel was awarded $54,585; Charles Steinberg was awarded $37,208 and Ben Miller was awarded $29,866.

In addition, Doyle and Miller, a former Medford police officer, were awarded $50,000 each in damages for emotional distress.

The case, which as been tossed about in state and federal courtrooms for nearly six years, will continue in September. The employees have lodged an age discrimination case against the city, Doyle said.

Doyle seemed satisfied with Thursday's ruling.

"I would like to thank the jury," he said. "We'll see what happens in September."

Doyle refused to comment on the damages the men are seeking in the next case.

Medford City Manager Mike Dyal declined to comment on the jury's ruling when contacted by phone Thursday.

The city issued a press release Thursday saying it plans to appeal Schiveley's decision. Should Schiveley's ruling stand, the city estimates the cost of supplying former employees with insurance until retirement would cost an additional $1,450 per month for each current employee.

The employee's attorney, Steve Brischetto, argued in his opening statement that his clients deserve compensation from the city to cover the cost of their health insurance premiums in the years between their early retirement and age 65.

Prior to the trial, Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Mark Schiveley found that the city had violated a statute requiring city employees be provided health insurance should they retire early to bridge the gap until they reach age 65. At age 65 they are eligible for health care under Medicare.

— Chris Conrad

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