By PETER HUSSMANN
Whirlpool had the right to change the retiree medical benefits to more than 3,000 former Maytag workers in Newton, a federal judge has ruled.
U.S. District Court Judge James Gritzner entered a judgment on Thursday, in a filing posted late today, in favor of the Whirlpool Corporation in the federal class-action lawsuit it brought against UAW Local 997 retirees three years ago. The decision follows a bench trial held late last year and the submission of post-trial briefs, in lieu of closing arguments following the trial in December 2010, in March 2011.
Judge Gritzner's 60-page ruling states that while he is sympathetic to the financial impact the decision will have on Maytag retirees, lawyers representing the UAW Local 997 retirees did not provide enough evidence that the retiree medical benefits were vested.
"In summation, the Union's inconclusive documentary evidence and underwhelming extrinsic evidence do not satisfy the Union's burden of proof because the general duration provisions, continuation language, coordination of benefits clauses, and reservation of rights language in the written documents and extrinsic evidence of changes to retiree medical benefits demonstrated by a preponderance of the evidence that the parties did not agree that the retiree medical benefits would survive the expiration of the retiree medical benefits schedule in the 2004 CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement)," Judge Gritzner's ruling states.
"The court is not unaware of the expectations of the Newton retirees nor unsympathetic in the result reached herein," the ruling continues. "However, the Union has not carried its burden under the law of showing that the Company agreed to vest retiree medical benefits. Regardless of what either side was thinking about vesting, proper allocation of the burden of the proof shows that the Union had the obligation to include express vesting language or present specific evidence that the Company agreed to provide vested retiree medical benefits.
"This the Union has not done within the structure of the applicable law in this circuit."
At this time it is uncertain what lawyers for Maytag retirees might do following the ruling. The possibility exists for an appeal to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The Newton Independent is attempting to contact lawyers for the parties to gain reaction.
The full ruling can be read below.