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Hall County employees win latest ruling in $75M pension case

Part of a decision on a $75 million class-action lawsuit against Hall County was voided Tuesday, Nov. 3, in a win for county employees who had sued over their pensions.  

The Georgia Court of Appeals nullified part of a ruling made a year ago in Hall County Superior Court that had favored the county. The court of appeals also remanded the case back to the Hall County Superior Court to consider the case in light of a recent Georgia Supreme Court decision made in a DeKalb County case. 

In Hall County Superior Court in November 2019, Judge Martha Christian granted summary judgment to the county government and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia following a hearing in May of that year. The plaintiffs, who are roughly 100 current and retired county employees, alleged there were unlawful freezes in the county’s pension plan that led to reduced payouts. Christian was appointed to the case as Hall’s judges recused themselves. 

Both sides filed motions for summary judgment, which asks the judge to decide on the merits of the case rather than let the case go to a jury.  

According to the employees’ appeal, the freeze on employer contributions to the pension plan allegedly violated a requirement from the Association County Commissioners of Georgia’s benefit plan, which required written notice and a hearing to explain the effects of the plan and answer employee questions. 

The Hall County summary judgment hearing in May 2019 was prior to an October 2019 Georgia Supreme Court decision, involving former DeKalb County employees suing 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.” 

The court ruled in October 2019 in favor of the teachers after hearing that case in May 2019, adding that the two-year notice was part of the employees’ contracts. 

“Given the foregoing circumstances, we exercise our discretion to vacate the summary judgment rulings as to the breach of contract claims against the Hall County defendants and remand the case for proceedings consistent with this opinion with the recent Supreme Court precedent of (the DeKalb County ruling),” according to the Court of Appeals’ opinion issued Tuesday. 

One of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Michael Kramer, said this was a win for the employees. 

“We’re delighted,” Kramer said. “We’re back in Superior Court before Judge Christian, and we look forward to presenting our case to a jury.” 

Kramer said his clients are “ecstatic and delighted” about the case returning to Hall County Superior Court, and he said they expect to “prove they are entitled to their pensions and that the freeze was unlawful.”