R.I. pension lawsuit: 60,000 invited to weigh in at hearing

2015-04-22 | The Providence Journal

April 21--PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Notices are in the mail to some 60,000 public-sector workers and retirees asking whether they wish to weigh in on the proposed class-action settlement to the state's pension lawsuit.

Superior Court Judge Sarah Taft-Carter granted preliminary approval of the deal last week, triggering the official notification process.

Those who wish to speak at a May 20 "fairness hearing" on the settlement have until May 15 to notify the court they wish to be heard.

In her decision, Taft-Carter said that "on a preliminary basis, the proposed settlement appears to be fair and within the range of settlements that could be worthy of final approval as fair, reasonable and adequate."

Reaching a settlement, the judge said, would save the unions and retiree groups that sued the state over benefit cuts "the risks inherent in litigation as well as from the additional delays and expense of continued litigation and bring some finality to this long-running dispute over the plaintiffs' retirement benefits."

The settlement, which relaxes some of the retirement-age requirements set in the 2011 pension law and provides for some small cost-of-living increases, still needs legislative approval.

State lawyer John Tarantino said Monday that he expected there would be ample time for the settlement to get necessary approval by both Taft-Carter and lawmakers before this year's legislative session ends.

The 12-page notification letters explain the history of the lawsuit and go into great detail about the economic terms of the proposed settlement.

The letters identify the various groups of state workers and retirees who have been approved as class-action participants and make clear that individual members of those groups cannot opt out of the settlement. They can only object to the judge and explain why they feel the settlement should not be approved for anyone.

People can express their views in writing or ask to speak at the "fairness hearing."

Tarantino said the two sides have set aside three days for that hearing but how long it goes will depend on how many people wish to speak.

Not everyone has signed on to the agreement. About 800 public safety workers, including police officers and firefighters in Cranston and the members of the International Brotherhood of Police Officers, which has locals in about 20 Rhode Island communities, have chosen to take their case to trial.

That trial could begin in June.

tmooney@providencejournal.com

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On Twitter: @mooneyprojo

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