April 16 A lawsuit by retired Rhode Island
public employees over the state's sweeping 2011 pension system
overhaul will continue after a judge on Wednesday rejected a
move by state officials to have the case thrown out.
Superior Court Associate Justice Sarah Taft-Carter found
that the retirees' pension benefits, for which they had
previously bargained, suggested enough of a contractual
relationship with the state for their claims to continue.
Rhode Island's 2011 pension overhaul, considered among the
most far-reaching in the United States, has been used by other
state and local governments as a model to rein in the ballooning
cost of retirement benefits for public-sector workers.
But pension changes also prompted public employees' unions
to sue on the grounds their retirement benefits were contractual
relationships that were allegedly violated by reforms.
"These retired workers lived up to their end of the deal by
dutifully paying into a pension system that was promised to be
there when they needed it," said plaintiffs' spokesman Ray
Sullivan. "The changes made to the state pension system were
undeniably an unconstitutional impairment of a contractual
In a joint statement, spokespeople for Governor Lincoln
Chafee and General Treasurer Gina Raimondo said the decision was
expected and is consistent with a previous ruling by the same
judge in a related case.
"The State continues to believe that the pension changes
enacted by our General Assembly are constitutional and that the
State has strong legal arguments to support its positions," they
said. "We are preparing for trial on all of the relevant issues,
including whether the General Assembly's changes were reasonable
The two sides had reached a settlement that would have
resolved multiple Rhode Island lawsuits filed over several years
by retirees' groups and labor unions representing police,
firefighters, teachers and municipal employees.
But police union members rejected the deal, prompting the
judge last week to order the parties back to mediation, where
they had been trying to hash out an agreement with the state for
a year. By Friday, however, mediation had failed, putting the
state on track for a potentially costly trial, scheduled to
begin in September.
(Reporting by Hilary Russ in New York. Editing by Andre Grenon)