Judge grants certification of class in West Metro Fire case

Up to 74 former West Metro employees are set to join the lawsuit

Posted 1/1/19

After an approval of certification of class from a Jefferson County District judge, at least 74 former West Metro Fire District employees will join a lawsuit against the fire district. Tim O'Hayre …

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Judge grants certification of class in West Metro Fire case

Up to 74 former West Metro employees are set to join the lawsuit

Posted

After an approval of certification of class from a Jefferson County District judge, at least 74 former West Metro Fire District employees will join a lawsuit against the fire district.

Tim O'Hayre and Ruth Brienza filed a lawsuit against West Metro Fire District, alleging that the Executive Committee of IAFF Local 1309, a union for current employees of West Metro Fire District and the district itself gave funds from a health trust to current employees as it was being closed down.

The funds were contributed to current employees' retirement health savings accounts — something West Metro Fire says was an appropriate action. However, O'Hayre and Brienza believe that they and other retirees and dependents from West Metro Fire were entitled to money that remained in the health trust.

The two plaintiffs asked the judge to turn the lawsuit into a class action, to make it on behalf of all retired firefighters and their dependents that were allegedly wronged by the money transfer.

“I'm very pleased with the (certification of class) ruling. It gives a clear legal path to have representation for all of the retirees effected,” said O'Hayre in a statement to the Lakewood Sentinel.

West Metro Fire declined to comment on the latest judicial ruling.

In a previous statement regarding the case, the department stated “West Metro felt that those active employees who had been paying in the Retiree Health Account were entitled to a portion of those funds since they would no longer be receiving the health benefit they had been paying for.” The fire department also added that its move to reimburse current employees fit the mission of the Retiree Health Account.

The health trust was created by West Metro Fire in 1996 to provide health benefits to both active employees, and qualified retirees until they turned 65 and could apply for Medicare.

Part of that health trust included the Retiree Health Account, an account created to hold funds for retiree health benefits and their beneficiaries. Both current and retired employees contributed to the health trust before the fire district and the trustees of the trust agreed to start closing it down in March of 2015. It was officially closed on Dec. 31, 2017.

Ronda Scholting, a spokesperson for West Metro Fire, said the health trust was closed, because it was projected to fall behind by $15 million in funding. If the health trust continued, West Metro Fire says it would've left the district with “little, or no operating budget.”

The fire district agreed to provide retired firefighters with health-care benefits between 2015 and the end of 2017 as it was being terminated. The Executive Committee of IAFF Local 1309 was responsible for managing the health trust during the shut-down period. There was about $1.7 million remaining in the health trust as of Dec. 31, 2015, according to court documents.

The joint resolution to end the health trust read “any assets remaining in the health trust fund, after satisfaction of all liabilities, shall not revert to either the employees, or the employer, but shall instead be transferred to such other entity, or entities that will utilize them for similar purposes as the health trust.”

West Metro Fire's agreement for coverage of retirees read that assets in the Retiree Health Trust will never revert to the benefit of the District.

O'Hayre, a former firefighter for West Metro Fire and Brienza, the wife of another West Metro Fire fighter, are seeking an accounting and restitution for all money that was in the health trust as of March 10, 2015 and any money that was added later.

The trial is scheduled to begin on Feb. 5, 2019 in a Jefferson County District Court. West Metro Fire District is a full-service fire department that serves over 250,000 residents in Jefferson County and Douglas County.

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