Judge: All Erving retirees entitled to same health-care benefits
ERVING — It doesn’t matter how long retirees have worked for the town. They are all owed the same health care benefits, a court ruled this month.
“Simply stated, a municipality should not be able to aggressively solve its health care cost problems by drastically limiting the number of eligible employees in this manner,” Superior Court Judge John Agostini wrote in a ruling obliging the town to pay its share of a retiree’s health care premiums despite a six-year-old town policy limiting health care benefits to employees of 10 years or more.
“If Erving’s policy passes muster, there is no logical reason to prevent the municipality from increasing the employment requirement to 15 or 20 years or even more. The terms or intent of the (state retirement) statute could be eviscerated by policies issued by the (local) board,” Agostini wrote in his decision, issued last week in favor of long-time Franklin County teacher and six-year Erving Elementary School principal, Charlene Galenski.
Agostini found the town of Erving responsible for almost 80 percent of Galenski’s health care premiums, retroactive to her retirement in 2012 and going forward.
Retirees of the town of Erving are entitled to participate in the town’s group health care plan, with the town paying 79 percent of the premium. In Galenski’s case, that premium came to $1,200 a month, with no assistance from the town.
The town voters since 1956 have accepted a state statute governing group insurance of municipal employees. The town sets the rate and currently pays 79 percent, according to the statement of facts accompanying Agostini’s decision.
But by 2007, the Erving Board of Selectmen had enacted a retirement policy that said a retiree must have worked for the town of Erving for a minimum of 10 years to qualify for the town contribution.
Galenski began working for the town months after the adoption of this policy and retired in October of last year. Six years’ employment in Erving after a career teaching in schools around the county, including Shelburne, Colrain, Buckland and South Deerfield, left Galenski responsible for 100 percent of her health care premium, according to the statement.
Galenski subsequently sued the town, naming the Board of Selectmen and the town treasurer, alleging Erving violated her rights to retirement health benefits as set forth in the state statutes accepted by the town.
Both sides argued their cases in Franklin Superior Court on Dec. 16, a preliminary hearing followed by a summary judgment later in the week, ending a suit that was scheduled to stretch into 2015.
Agostini ruled that the town policy not only undermined the plain language of the statute by redefining “employee” to apply only to 10-year employees, but also carried potential for a legal challenge on the grounds of discrimination.
Older job-seekers, looking ahead to retirement in less than a decade, could be discouraged by the benefit quota.
“I have grave doubts that such potential discrimination would be permitted by the Appellate Court,” Agostini wrote.
Selectman and Treasurer Margaret Sullivan said this week she was unaware of the ruling and would have to read the judgment to speak to what this might mean for the town’s retirement policy. The other two selectmen could not be reached for comment Thursday.
You can reach Chris Curtis at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-772-0261, ext. 257