Oregon Supreme Court Protects PERS Benefits

For over two decades Greg Hartman has represented a coalition of public sector labor unions in protecting the rights of members under Oregon’s public employee retirement system. This representation has involved not only litigation but multiple appearances before the Oregon legislature as well as before the Public Employee Retirement Board. Greg has handled several cases which have resulted in billions of dollars of saved benefits for members of the Public Employee Retirement System. He was lead counsel in the case Strunk et al. v. Public Employee Retirement Board et al., in which the Oregon Supreme Court held a portions of the 2003 reform legislation were unconstitutional, thereby reinstating over $2 billion of benefits for PERS members.

Most recently Greg, along with partner Aruna Masih, pursued legal challenges to the 2013 changes to PERS benefits in the case of Moro et. al. v. State of Oregon et. al. before the Oregon Supreme Court. On April 30, 2015, the Oregon Supreme Court held that most of the changes to PERS cost-of -living adjustment (COLA) made by the 2013 legislature, including those that were part of the “Grand Bargain,” unconstitutionally impaired PERS members’ contract rights.

At issue in the Moro case was $5.3 billion dollars in benefits for PERS members and retirees. The Supreme Court’s decision finding the SB 822 and SB 861 reductions to COLA unconstitutional for benefits earned before the effective dates of the changes means that over $4 billion of the $5.3 billion in benefits at issue have been protected. This represents a significant victory for PERS retirees and members.

The court affirmed the changes to the 1991 (SB 656) and 1995 (HB 3349) income tax offsets for out of state retirees and to COLA for benefits that members earn on or after the effective dates of SB 822 (May 6, 2013) and SB 861 (October 8, 2013). A complete copy of the Supreme Court’s decision can be found through the link to the pleadings on our PERS Litigation page.

Board finds School District Engaged in Unfair Labor Practice By Failing to Restore School Days and Compensation

When the Medford School District received additional funding from the State but did not use that funding to restore school days and compensation in accordance with a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) it had entered into with the Medford Education Association, the Association filed an unfair labor practice complaint with the Employment Relations Board.  Aruna Masih represented the Association before the Board.  The Board determined that the District did violate the MOA and ORS 243.672(1)(g) by failing to restore school days and compensation under the MOA.  The Board ordered the District to cease and desist in its unfair labor practice and to bargain a make-whole remedy with the Association regarding the loss of days and compensation.  When the bargaining did not result in an agreement on remedy, the Board issued a Supplemental Order requiring the District to submit $345,067 (plus interest at nine percent per annum) to Association represented employees.

Retiree Health Insurance Benefits Protected

Employees who had taken a leave of absence and not maintained health insurance through the employer were denied early retirement health insurance benefits after retirement.  The union pursued a group grievance under the early retirement benefits section of collective bargaining agreement, arguing that the employees were entitled to benefits based on years of service and the employer was improperly imposing additional eligibility requirements.  Aruna represented the union at the arbitration hearing and succeeded in obtaining retiree health insurance benefits.

PERS Data Verification

An employee entitled to PERS benefits was told by PERS that she would be receiving a certain amount in retirement benefits. The employee gave up her job and retired in reliance on the information provided by PERS. Several months after the employee retired, PERS told the employee that her retirement benefit amount was actually a quarter less than what it had told the employee she would get before she retired. Aruna took the case to trial and won a unanimous jury verdict in favor of the employee for over $200,000.  When the appellate courts reversed the judgment, Aruna and her client went before the legislature to request a legislative fix for the problem.  The legislature passed ORS 238.285 allowing PERS members to obtain a binding data verification from PERS before they retire.

Disciplinary Action Reversed

An employee suffering from Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) covered conditions was disciplined for alleged excessive absenteeism. Aruna Masih, representing the employee through her union, took grievances on behalf of the employee to arbitration under the union’s contract with the employer and won reversal of the disciplinary action.

Sexual Harassment Settlement Awarded

An employee was subjected to sexual harassment by her supervisor and other male co-workers. The situation at work became so unbearable that the employee was forced to quit her job. Aruna Masih helped file a sex discrimination and wrongful discharge case in state court on behalf of the employee. The employer settled the case during depositions of their witnesses, agreeing to give the employee a large portion of money and other relief she was asking the state court to award.

Travel Reimbursements Settlement

An employee was denied reimbursement for travel she did for her employer. Aruna, represented the employee through her union, filed grievances on behalf of the employee under the union’s contract with the employer and negotiated a settlement with the employer for the full amount owed to the employee.

Disability Discrimination Case Settled

An employee suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder was refused the right to return to work by her employer, even after her doctor issued a full release. Aruna helped file a disability discrimination case in federal court on behalf of the employee. The employer settled the case before trial, agreeing to give the employee most of the money and other relief she was asking the federal court to award.