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Trial set for hospital employees' suit

February 03, 2009|By TRISH RUDDER

BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. -- A trial date has been set in the fight over pension funds that led 15 War Memorial Hospital employees to sue the hospital for more than $1 million.

At Tuesday's status hearing, 23rd Judicial Circuit Judge John C. Yoder scheduled the trial to begin at 9:30 a.m. June 16 date in the courtroom at the Board of Education office on Harrison Avenue.

Oral arguments will be heard by Yoder on March 4 at 3 p.m. in Magistrate Court.

The suit, which was filed in June 2007 in Morgan County, names the hospital and its board of directors, hospital President John H. Borg and Valley Health Systems, the firm that manages the hospital.

The plaintiffs are asking for "an amount in excess of $1 million in compensatory and punitive damages, plus interest, costs and attorney fees," according to the lawsuit.

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The plaintiffs were participants in a defined benefit plan that was adopted by the hospital in 1972 to provide retirement benefits to its employees, according to the suit.

In 1987, the hospital stopped that plan and a defined contribution plan was put in its place. The assets of the old plan were frozen, according to the lawsuit.

Lawrence M. Schultz, who represents the plaintiffs, said "the hospital wants the money and the plan says the hospital cannot have the money, according to the plan contract."

Instead of distributing the surplus assets to the participants, Schultz said the hospital wants to pay about $150,000 to the 15 women, which would give them an average of $10,000 each, depending on the length of their employment.

In 2006, War Memorial sued the women because they would not sign a waiver allowing the hospital to keep the surplus funds. The lawsuit was dismissed by a federal court in Martinsburg, W.Va., because it was out of its jurisdiction.

The hospital appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit in Richmond, Va., but lost in November, Schultz said.

A pretrial hearing date is set for June 3 at 10 a.m. in Magistrate Court.

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