Teachers file suit over retirement plans

By John O'Brien | Apr 18, 2006

Jim Lees

CHARLESTON - As expected, several teachers have filed a lawsuit in Kanawha Circuit Court against the West Virginia Consolidated Public Retirement Board in an attempt to block the effects of a coming change in teacher retirement plans.

Almost 3,000 teachers put their name on a lawsuit filed April 13 through Charleston attorney Jim Lees. Anthony J. Barbario and Richard Goff are the first listed, acting as representatives for the other teachers.

Barbario was the first to contact Lees when he learned of a possible change in his retirement plan, which was confirmed with a statewide vote of teachers.

Teachers were told to choose between an old system - a defined benefits plan - where retirement funds were provided and managed by the state and the newer system - a defined contribution plan - where retirement funds were contributed by the state and managed by the individual.

A vote of about 12,700 of nearly 23,000 eligible voters determined the older system would be put back into place, thanks to a majority vote of 62 percent.

Those who made a significant amount of money controlling their own retirement fund are now asked to put that money back into a collective retirement fund to be divided equally among the state's 23,000 school employees. That fund would have an estimated $645 million in it.

The state Legislature drew up the plan for the vote, and Lees disagreed with giving a specific class of people lawmaking power. He says the Legislature should have voted, not the teachers. No matter the outcome of the vote, he also says those who profited from the old system should not have to give up their money.

The lawsuit charges the Consolidated Public Retirement Board with three violations of the West Virginia Constitution, a violation of statutory law, a breach of contract and a request for preliminary injunction without bond to keep the change from taking place until the matter is resolved.

Judge Paul Zakaib has been assigned the case.

Kanawha Circuit Court case number 06-C-687

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