Retirees claim 'threat' by Qwest
By Jack King
Journal Staff Writer
Monday, July 28, 2008
In the latest development
in an on-going legal battle, representatives of a Qwest retirees
association charge the company's lawyers have threatened the
phone company's retirees' with the loss of the life insurance in
their retirement packages.
They are protesting a statement in a
legal filing by Qwest attorneys that says, in part, "if
plaintiffs prevail on their claims .. Qwest can recoup the
amounts it saved by terminating all Plan benefits for
still-living Eligible Retirees."
Qwest spokeswoman Diane Reberger told
the Journal that the legal filing merely outlines the company's
legal strategy in the case, in response to the association's
attorneys request for class action status. The statement does
not constitute a threat to retirees, she said.
According to the Denver Post, the
Association of US West Retirees filed a lawsuit against Qwest in
2006 in U.S. District Court in
challenging a reduction by the company of the life-insurance
benefit received as part of a retirement package. The plan
originally guaranteed a minimum of $20,000 to survivors of those
who retired before 1996 and a minimum of $30,000 to survivors of
those who retired after 1996. Qwest has lowered the benefit to
Only seven plaintiffs originally were
named in the suit and the association has moved to make it a
class action suit, the Post said.
Irene Chavira, a former US West vice
president, and president of the retirees association's New
Mexico branch, called the words in the filing "a threat" to
phone company retirees.
She said many of the people affected
by Qwest's reduction of the benefit were employees of US West,
and even of Mountain Bell. While it's unknown how many telephone
company retirees live in New Mexico, the
association has about 600 members in the state, she added.
"These retirees have been counting on
these life insurance benefits and maybe had made decisions not
to buy other policies, because they had those benefits," she
She added that, if the association
wins in its lawsuit, she doesn't understand how the company
could take away the benefits.
"Prevailing would mean we were
correct in our premise, that we are entitled to and had earned
those benefits," she said.
But, Reberger pointed out that the
section including the controversial quote also includes a legal
argument based on a previous court ruling that "a plaintiff
cannot maintain a class action when his interests are
antagonistic to, or in conflict with, the interests of the
persons he would seek to represent."
Other phone company retirees likely
would not seek the relief sought in the plaintiff's claims if
they knew the relief could jeopardize all benefits to all class
members under the package's life insurance plan, and significant
benefits that many have received under its health plan, the
legal filing states.
In response, Chavira said that, as a
nonlawyer, she can only draw a conclusion based on the words
"The quote was forwarded to us from
our attorney and he's the one who called them 'a threat,'" she