Medford to aid employees in scuttling class-action suit

Nearly 100 management employees for the city of Medford don't want any part of a class-action suit that could raise health costs and extend benefits to retired workers.

"Ninety percent of the management employees don't want to be part of the class-action lawsuit," said Doug Detling, director of human resources. He based his findings on a petition sent out to the 105 employees in this category working for the city.

In a resolution passed this week, the City Council agreed to contribute $20,000 to pay for attorney's fees to find a way for management staff to help scuttle a class-action suit.

The legal wrangling stems from a suitfiled in 2006 in U.S. District Court in Medford by Joseph Bova of the Public WorksDepartment and Marlene Scudder of theMedford Police Department. Bova stillworks under contract with the city.

Bova has argued that the city is legally obligated to provide bridge health insurance to retired employees until they reach age 65. According to city officials, the retiree benefits would increase health insurance costs by more than $500,000 annually.

Detling said these employees worry that they will have to pay an additional $200 a month in insurance premiums if they can't block the suit. Currently they pay $17.40 a month. Another $200 would have to be paid by the city itself as the cost of coverage would increase on average from $1,059 to $1,469 a month for each employee.

Many management employees wonder why they are part of the suit.

Medford police Chief Randy Schoen said he sent the attorney representing the management employees a letter more than a year ago asking that he not be part of any class-action suits. Several other letters were sent by other city management staff, he said.

"I'm disappointed because his office never responded to those letters," he said.

Portland attorney Steve Brischetto, who represents Bova and the management employees, said he received letters from city employees, but only after the court had decided they were part of the class-action suit.

He said the city itself is to blame for not taking the correct legal steps to make it possible for these employees to opt out of the suit.

"The city is trying to duck its head in the sand to the fact that they never asked particular management folks to opt out of a class-action suit," he said. "The city attorney didn't ask for any opt-out provision."

Schoen said that contrary to what Brischetto said, he thinks his letter was sent before the courts decided who was part of the class-action suit.

"I'm not sure I agree with his opinion of it," Schoen said. "It's almost like we've been forced into something we didn't want to be part of."

Brischetto said the city and management employees have placed themselves in an interesting legal position.

On the one hand the employees are suing the city, but at the same time the city is giving them money to hire an attorney to get them out of the suit.

Detling said it is irrelevant whether some employees want to opt out of the suit.

Detling himself said he decided to remain a participant in the suit for tactical reasons, to keep track of the legal maneuvering on the part of Brischetto.

"After the class action was established, there has been zero communication with Steve Brischetto, who is representing the class," he said.

Detling said he never thought the city was wrong in asserting it should not provide bridge coverage until a retired employee reaches age 65.

"I thought all along this was a ridiculous lawsuit," he said.

In a separate suit that has similar legal arguments, former City Attorney Ron Doyle and three other former city employees claimed they were entitled to a bridge health insurance plan until they reached age 65. The other former employees who joined in the suit were Robert Deuel, Benedict Miller and Charles Steinberg.

The courts are treating the two cases differently because Doyle was already retired when he filed the legal action, while Bova was still employed with the city.

In February, an Oregon Supreme Court ruling determined the city of Medford is obligated to provide health benefits to its retirees, but only under certain circumstances.

On Sept. 4, 2009, Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Mark Schiveley wrote in an opinion that the former city employees should have been covered by a bridge health insurance plan until they reached age 65.

Both the Bova and Doyle cases are still being argued in the courts.

Detling said the $20,000 will allow the management employees to hire their own attorney to try to prevent any legal action that could force the city to pay the benefits to its retired employees and to raise their rates. Detling said the employees have hired Portland attorney Lisa Umscheid.

"As far as we are concerned Mr. Brischetto doesn't represent us any longer," he said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail

Share This Story