Lexington officers appeal judge's ruling in dispute over retiree health benefits

vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comJuly 16, 2013 

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A Lexington police officer and two retired officers are appealing a federal judge's dismissal of their lawsuit alleging that the city is violating their constitutional rights by not contributing 100 percent of the cost of retiree health insurance premiums.

Officer Michael Sweeney and retired officers Tommy Puckett and Donald Chumley filed the lawsuit against the Urban County Government in September 2012.

U.S. District Judge Karen Caldwell dismissed the lawsuit on June 12. Caldwell ruled that there was no contract between the Urban County Government and police officer retirees that forever obligated the city to pay 100 percent of the retirees' health-insurance premiums.

The city's contribution for health insurance premiums changed on Jan. 1, 2012.

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

Puckett and the others appealed Caldwell's ruling on July 8 to the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals. Robert Abell, the men's attorney, said in an interview Tuesday that the city is violating "both property and contract rights protected by the U.S. Constitution," rights that they maintain prohibit the city from making the reduction.

In September 2012, Puckett estimated that 620 retired officers and firefighters were affected.

City spokeswoman Susan Straub said Tuesday that she could not comment on pending litigation.

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

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

Employees and retirees were given a choice of three single coverage plans available at no additional cost beyond the $430.74 a month the city provided, Straub said.

But when there was a significant increase in the price of some of the plans, the city ended its practice of providing the subsidy.

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

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