Retiree Leader Condemns Qwest Communications’

Retaliatory Threats Against Retirees Stated In Legal Brief

 

WASHINGTON (Thursday, July 10, 2008) The president of the National Retiree Legislative Network (NRLN) today condemned the retaliatory threats against retirees life insurance benefits contained in a legal brief filed by attorneys for Qwest Communications.

“It makes my blood boil that Qwest Communications would claim that it may have to hurt an entire group of retirees if retiree plaintiffs are successful in their lawsuit against the company,” said Bill Kadereit, NRLN president. “The company’s arrogance is mind-boggling.”

In a brief filed with Denver U.S. District Court Judge Walker Miller in the Kerber v. Qwest Group Life Insurance Plan lawsuit, attorneys representing the company state that if plaintiffs prevail “Qwest would need to consider terminating the Life Plan benefits for Eligible Retirees altogether in an effort to recoup the amounts it would have saved” from placing a $10,000 limit on retirees’ life insurance benefits.

The brief went on to state: “As a result, by pursuing these claims, the seven named plaintiffs are playing dice with the life insurance benefits of the nearly 50,000 retirees they purport to represent.”

“This is a blatant attempt by Qwest’s legal counsel to intimidate not only the plaintiffs but all U.S. WEST and Qwest retirees who have had their life insurance benefits reduced,” Kadereit said. 

“It would be a clear violation of ERISA [Employee Retirement Income Security Act] Section 510 for Qwest to retaliate due to persons exercising their legal rights and prevailing in a lawsuit,” said Curtis L. Kennedy, the attorney for the retirees.  “I've asked the court for permanent injunctive relief to prevent Qwest from retaliating against anyone.”

The Kerber v. Qwest Group Life Insurance lawsuit was filed on March 30, 2007 by Edward J. Kerber, a Warrington, Oregon U.S. WEST retiree and six other retirees after Qwest reduced the basic life insurance coverage to $10,000. The plaintiffs are seeking to have their case certified as a class-action lawsuit. Among the plaintiffs’ claims is the contention that rules of the benefits plan prohibited Qwest from reducing coverage below the stated minimums.

The retirees contend that the rules had stated that basic life insurance benefits “shall not be reduced below” $20,000 for any retiree who retired before January 1, 1996 and basic life insurance benefits “shall not be reduced below” $30,000 for any retiree who retired on or after January 1, 1996.

Kadereit said that in addition to having their life insurance benefit capped at $10,000, Qwest management retirees have been told there will be no future cost-of-living increases in their pensions and post-1990 retirees are being required to pay all increased costs for healthcare coverage.

“At the same time that retirees have suffered these cutbacks, the Qwest Board of Directors has given Qwest Chief Executive Ed Mueller a compensation package valued at $17.4 million--enough to pay $10,000 to 17,400 retirees,” Kadereit said. “I believe Mueller should denounce the vengeful statements contained in the legal briefs and assure retirees that no acts of retaliation will be taken against retirees as the result of the lawsuit,”

Kadereit said he will send letters to Congressional leaders to point to Qwest’s retaliatory statements as another example of why retirement life insurance and healthcare benefits earned through years of dedication must receive protection under ERISA, just as pension benefits are protected by the law.

The Association of U.S. WEST Retirees is one of the 18 retiree associations affiliated with the NRLN.

About the NRLN

Based in Washington, D.C., the National Retiree Legislative Network (NRLN) is the only nationwide organization solely dedicated to representing the interests of retirees and future retirees. The NRLN’s mission is to secure federal legislation to protect retirees’ employer-sponsored pensions and benefits plus keep Social Security and Medicare strong. The NRLN is a non-partisan, grassroots coalition of retiree associations and individual members representing more than two million retired men and women seeking to preserve the retirement benefits they earned during their many years of employment.  For more information and to join the grassroots network, visit the NRLN Web site at http://www.nrln.org.   ###