A federal lawsuit against Deere & Co. filed by a group of retirees is scheduled to go to trial in September, and a judge has ordered class action certification in part of the case.
The retirees of the Moline, Ill.-based company claim that changes to the benefits package put in place last year “eliminated, reduced and dramatically altered” their benefits and they seek to have previous benefits levels restored.
“Deere implemented radically inferior health care benefits and coverage in comparison to the benefits and coverage provided to Plaintiffs while working,” they argue in the lawsuit filed last September.
Deere has said there never was a guarantee that plans wouldn’t change, and that the changes that were made allowed the retirees more health care decisions.
The plaintiffs in the case are Dora Brubaker of Johnston, Thomas Blosch of Dubuque, Michael Stohlmeyer of East Moline, Ill., and other former salaried and nonunion wage retirees who retired after July 1, 1993. Many are members of the Flex Retirees Organization, or FRO, which organized the workers leading up to the lawsuit.
The plaintiffs say in the lawsuit that there are more than 5,000 members of the class who were affected by the changes in Deere’s retirement plan.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs and Deere & Co. declined to comment on the pending litigation. A telephone message left for a spokesman for the company wasn’t immediately returned.
Last month, Senior Judge Charles R. Wolle certified the class action status on two counts alleged in the lawsuit.
The first claims that Deere violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act and terms of the benefits plans. In the other, the plaintiffs allege Deere violated disclosure and claims procedure requirements and other regulations.
The two counts that do not yet have class action status claim that the company breached its fiduciary duty and that it made promises to retirees about continued benefits while knowing that it intended to consider reducing or eliminating some of those benefits.
Deere has moved for summary judgment on the class action counts and the judge will hear motions at the end of March.
Trial was scheduled for Sept. 21 in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa. According to the lawsuit, the case against the Illinois-based company was filed in Iowa because Deere has numerous plants and facilities in Iowa and many of the class action members live in the state.
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