Age Discrimination Trial Against Medford Opens

September 9, 2010

An age discrimination lawsuit against the city of Medford, Ore., led by the former city attorney claims that a change in insurance carriers and coverage affected mostly older workers.

Lawsuits filed by former City Attorney Ron Doyle and Joseph Bova, who is employed by the Public Works Department, have been separately winding their way through state and federal courtrooms for nearly six years.

The case being heard this week in Jackson County Circuit Court by Judge Mark Schiveley combines several complaints, The Mail Tribune reports.

But the central issue is whether the city discriminated against older employees when City Manager Mike Dyal bypassed Doyle’s legal objections and changed the city’s insurance carrier and coverage in 2002.

After opening statements, attorneys for the employees, Steve Brischetto and George Fisher, called Dyal to the stand.

Fisher asked Dyal to read a series of memos he and staff had written that discussed the need to save on insurance costs and employee ages.

Dyal said remarks about savings and the city’s “maturing work force’ were being taken out of context. He said he was simply seeking to mitigate a 40 percent increase in insurance costs at the time of the switch.

Dyal said he and Doyle had meetings about their differing opinions regarding Oregon statutes and the legality of the proposed changes.

In June, Schiveley was the presiding judge in a related case in which a jury awarded four city employees about $283,000 in damages following a three-day trial.

The employees claimed they were forced to pay for high-cost insurance when the city declined to extend their health insurance coverage after they retired early.

Doyle, who resigned in 2005, was awarded $61,142, Robert Deuel was awarded $54,585, Charles Steinberg was awarded $37,208, and Ben Miller was awarded $29,866.

In addition, Doyle and Miller, a former Medford police officer, were awarded $50,000 each in damages for emotional distress.

The city also is dealing with a separate class-action suit that has similar legal arguments, filed in 2006 in U.S. District Court in Medford by Bova and Marlene Scudder of the Medford Police Department.

The complex case has produced other rulings:

In February, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled the city should make health coverage available to workers who have taken early retirement but added the qualifying language of “insofar as and to the extent possible.”

In May, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that, while state law requires cities to make health coverage available “to the extent possible,” city employees have no constitutional right to health insurance coverage should they retire early.

Despite the federal ruling, the Oregon Supreme Court ruling stands on its own in addressing whether the city adhered to the state statute.

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