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Attorneys in Hall pension case point to recent Ga. Supreme Court decision in motion
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Hall County Superior Court fills to capacity Thursday, March 1, 2018, with current and retired Hall County employees for the first hearing regarding the estimated $75 million class-action lawsuit on Hall County employee pensions. - photo by Scott Rogers

Attorneys representing Hall County employees in a pension dispute hope a recent Georgia Supreme Court decision will keep their lawsuit going against county government.

The lawyers have filed a notice pointing to a recent Georgia Supreme Court decision that they hope will sway the judge to deny summary judgment for the county government or at least send the case to a trial.

Roughly 100 current and retired employees filed a class-action lawsuit in January 2017 against the county and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia worth an estimated $75 million, with the employees arguing their accrued pension benefits were frozen.

With the majority being first responders, there were roughly 70 current employees and about 30 employees that retired after July 1, 2008. 

Judge Martha Christian indicated to the attorneys in mid-July she was intending to rule in the county’s favor.

However, the employees’ attorney Michael Kramer said Thursday, Nov. 7, they are still awaiting the judge’s decision.

Both sides submitted proposed orders in the past few months to the judge, Kramer said.

Kramer and co-counsel Ed Buckley filed a notice Oct. 31 regarding a recent case, DeKalb County School District et al v. Gold et al.

The Georgia Supreme Court issued a ruling on the case Oct. 21.

In March 2011, four current and former DeKalb County employees sued the school district and county board of education for “breaching an agreement to provide two years advance notice prior to suspending contributions to their DeKalb County Tax-Sheltered Annuity Plan.”

According to a summary provided by the court, the DeKalb County Board of Education voted to suspend the annuity plan during the “Great Recession” with no prior notice to employees.

“Here, the record shows that (the school district) offered their employees a retirement benefits plan, and also promised to provide two years’ notice before reducing any of the funding provisions of the benefits plan. In exchange, the employees agreed to begin to work or continue to work for Appellants, and to wait until their retirement to collect these funds. That bargain contemplated the necessary consideration flowing from both parties, thus making the two-year notice provision a part of Appellees’ employment contracts,” according to the supreme court’s opinion.

County attorney Bill Blalock said he feels the Hall and DeKalb county cases are not the same and that the DeKalb County ruling should not affect the Hall County pension case.

At a May hearing, Buckley argued the employees were subject to a “bait and switch” when these plans changed.

“The bait and switch is, ‘Hey, you’re going to make a lot more money under the defined contribution plan. But, of course, you’re not going to be using our money.’ You’re going to be using your own, and only if you can afford to contribute to the defined contribution plan,” Buckley said.

The result, according to the plaintiffs, is much reduced pension payouts and employees delaying retirement, afraid they won’t be able to afford it.

At the same hearing, Hall County’s attorney Ben Mathis called the issue at hand a good faith attempt of a new plan thought at one time to be more fruitful for the retirees.

Calling the county’s procedural errors “literally mind-boggling,” the attorneys for the Hall County employees pointed to the DeKalb County case and the board reportedly not following its protocols for policy adoption.

The employees’ attorneys claimed there was no board meeting or board vote to adopt the July 1, 1998 resolution that would freeze the plan.

“In the instant case, at every turn defendants seek to excuse away their failure to follow the numerous written ‘specific protocols’ of board action, legislative requirements and contractual obligations in the controlling plan provisions. (The employees) have repeatedly pointed to and enumerated defendants’ procedural failures and departures from the specific protocols and contractual terms in detail in their filing,” according to Kramer’s filing.

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