Former, current police officers sue Lexington over retiree health benefits

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comSeptember 5, 2012 

Three retired and current Lexington police officers have filed a lawsuit in federal court alleging that the city is violating their constitutional rights by not contributing 100 percent of the cost of retiree health insurance premiums.

The retired police officers Tommy Puckett and Donald Chumley, and Michael Sweeney, a current police officer, filed the lawsuit against the Urban County Government Tuesday. The city's contribution for health insurance premiums changed Jan. 1, the complaint said.

As a result, Puckett and Chumley have had to pay $202.53 monthly for their health insurance benefits, according to the complaint.

In an interview Wednesday, Puckett estimated that 620 retired officers and firefighters are affected.

Sweeney, who is also the president of the Bluegrass Lodge No. 4 of the Fraternal Order of Police, filed the lawsuit on behalf of current police officers "who have like Sweeney a real, live ... controversy with LFUCG regarding the scope of health care insurance," the complaint said.

City spokeswoman Susan Straub said she could not comment on pending litigation. However, Straub provided details of changes made in 2012 to employee health insurance.

Straub said for several years, police and fire retirees have received the same amount per month for health insurance as non-union city employees: $355.74.

The retirees and the non-union city employees also received a $75 monthly supplement if they took an individual plan.

"Employees and retirees were given a choice of three different single coverage plans available at no additional cost to them beyond the $430.74 a month the city provides," Straub said. "But there was a significant increase in the price of some of the plans offered by the city. The city ended its practice of providing a multi-million dollar subsidy to offset the true cost of employee health insurance."

Robert Abell, the attorney representing the men, said in an interview Wednesday there are constitutionally protected property and contract rights that prohibit the city from making the reduction.

"(The lawsuit) seeks to have the practice stopped and for the retired police officers to recoup the monies they've paid out in the interim," Abell said.

The men also want the city to pay legal fees from the lawsuit.

The complaint sought class-action status so it could include other officers who participate in the group health plan and are retired or intend to retire.

Valarie Honeycutt Spears: (859) 231-3409.Twitter: @vhspears

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