West Metro Fire nears settlement agreement with retirees

Fire district was sued for allegations that it improperly distributed retirement money

Posted 5/9/19

West Metro Fire District, Tim O'Hayre and Ruth Brienza have come to a settlement agreement. More details will be available soon, according to Brian Matise, the lawyer who represents the two. “We're …

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West Metro Fire nears settlement agreement with retirees

Fire district was sued for allegations that it improperly distributed retirement money

Posted

West Metro Fire District, Tim O'Hayre and Ruth Brienza have come to a settlement agreement. More details will be available soon, according to Brian Matise, the lawyer who represents the two.

“We're still working out the details about (the settlement agreement), but in a couple of weeks we'll be able to release more. Until we work out the terms, we can't really comment on it,” said Matise.

O'Hayre, a former firefighter for West Metro Fire and Brienza, the wife of a former West Metro Fire fighter, filed a lawsuit against the fire district last year, alleging that the Executive Committee of IAFF Local 1309, a union for current West Metro Fire District employees and the district gave funds from a health trust to its current employees while the trust was being closed down. West Metro Fire said the money transfer was appropriate. O'Hayre and Brienza said retirees and dependents from the district were entitled to those funds instead.

Toward the end of last year, a Jefferson County District judge approved for at least 74 former West Metro Fire District employees to join the lawsuit.

What next?

As the settlement is put together, a notice with details about it will be sent out to those who joined the lawsuit. Following that, the court has to approve the claims in the settlement. If the settlement is approved, then West Metro Fire and the Executive Committee of IAFF Local 1309 would be dismissed from the case, and members of the lawsuit will be sent claim forms detailing what they will be receiving.

Beneficiaries of the settlement will have a chance to submit any objections they have to it. If a beneficiary were to submit an objection, then they would have a chance to explain their decision in a hearing.

“I am very pleased that the retirees are going to receive the benefits they are entitled to,” said O'Hayre.

What happened to the health trust?

West Metro Fire created the health trust in 1996 to provide benefits to both active employees and qualified retirees until they turned 65 and could apply for Medicare.

Within that health trust laid the Retiree Health Account, an account created to hold funds for retiree health benefits and their beneficiaries. Current and retired employees contributed to the health trust until West Metro Fire and trustees of the trust agreed to start the process of closing it down in March 2015. It was closed on Dec. 31, 2017.

The health trust was projected to fall behind by $15 million in funding, causing the move to shut it down, according to Ronda Scholting, a spokesperson for West Metro Fire.

The fire district agreed to provide retired firefighters with health-care benefits between 2015 and the end of 2017 as it was being closed down. The Executive Committee of IAFF Local 1309 was tasked with managing the health trust during the shut-down period. Court documents revealed there was about $1.7 million remaining in the health trust as of Dec. 31, 2015.

Assets in the Retiree Health Trust were not supposed to benefit the district, according to West Metro Fire's trust fund agreement.

O'Hayre and Brienza were seeking an accounting and restitution for all money that was in the health trust as of March 10, 2015 and any money that was added later.

West Metro Fire is a full-service fire department that serves over 250,000 residents in Jefferson County and Douglas County.

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