From John Curry, January 30, 2009
A lawsuit filed on behalf of 106 retired teachers from Glenbard High School District 87 has resulted in a judgment worth more than $120,000 to be paid to the plaintiffs, based on a ruling by DuPage County Circuit Court Judge Stephen J. Culliton.
On Jan. 22, Culliton ruled that the money be awarded as compensation for the district's failure to honor provisions of three prior collective bargaining agreements that would provide health insurance coverage for early retirees until age 65. Problems between the district and its former employees escalated quickly after the Glenbard District announced in June 2007 that it would require all retirees pay a portion of those costs.
Attorney for the plaintiffs Jeffrey Kehl said the matter was a clear breach of the contracts.
"The retirees sued the very next month, claiming that their right to paid insurance under the prior contracts should have been honored, while the district asked immediately for a dismissal, claiming there was no standing since the contracts had expired," Kehl said. The district's motion was dismissed.
Kehl said the issue was not tried not as a class-action case because each plaintiff would receive compensation according to his or her unique circumstances, including a variety of PPO or HMO health plans. Enrollment months also varied from teacher to teacher. Financial compensation, Kehl said, could vary from as much as $1,200 to as little as zero.
Kehl admitted that most of the 18 months of his efforts have been provided pro bono.
"The teachers have paid some of my fees, but they are far and away ahead of the game at this point," he said. "My view was that these people had been treated unfairly, and I think the district thought that no one would take them to court. The principle carries the day on this, as far as I'm concerned."
Since the January judgment, the district has filed an appeal. Kehl said the matter will likely be tied up in court for as much as a year before the appellate court decides whether to hear the case. Meanwhile, the costs to the district are mounting.
"In addition to the legal fees they'll be paying, my clients will continue to receive 6 percent interest on their money for as long as this drags out," he said. "I see this as a complete waste of time on the district's part. I don't see any way they'll come out of this."
Ron Molek, assistant superintendent for Human Resources, told The Sun this week that he would not talk about litigation because it is under appeal. Molek did clarify the District's position, however, saying that the retired teachers were offered options.
"Teachers could have taken the Teacher Retirement System's health insurance program known as TRIP [Teachers' Retirement Insurance Program] and paid nothing, or they could elect to stay with the district's insurance program and pay what a regular teacher pays," Molek said.
"We felt we gave the teachers a fair choice. Their point is that they shouldn't pay for the district insurance because of the contracts that have now expired. We feel the time to address that issue should have been done when the new contract was being drawn up."
Molek also said he believed it was fair to hold the judgment money in escrow until the appeal process is over.