Honeywell Won’t Have to Arbitrate Retiree Health Cuts

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By Jacklyn Wille

Sept. 15 — Retirees challenging Honeywell International Inc.'s decision to eliminate their health coverage won’t be able to force the dispute into arbitration ( Flether v. Honeywell Int’l, Inc. , 2016 BL 300368, S.D. Ohio, No. 3:16-cv-00302, 9/13/16 ).

This proposed class action between Honeywell and retirees of a Greenville, Ohio, plant is one of at least three pending lawsuits challenging the company’s decision to terminate retiree health coverage for certain workers beginning in 2017. On Sept. 13, a federal judge in Ohio overruled the Greenville retirees’ request for arbitration and partly dismissed their lawsuit, reasoning that Honeywell only agreed to arbitrate with unions and employees, and not with former workers or retirees.

According to the various lawsuits—filed by retirees at Ohio, Michigan and Connecticut plants—Honeywell is bound by collective bargaining agreements to provide lifetime health coverage for retirees and their spouses. Honeywell announced that it would terminate certain retirees’ medical and prescription drug coverage beginning in January 2017.

Speaking to Bloomberg BNA in April when the lawsuits were filed, Honeywell spokesman Robert C. Ferris cited the increased options provided by the Affordable Care Act as one factor driving the decision to end coverage for certain retirees.

With the ruling by Judge Walter H. Rice of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Ohio, Honeywell both avoids arbitration and prevails on the Greenville retirees’ claim of unlawful refusal to arbitrate. Their claims under the Labor Management Relations Act and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act remain pending, as do the other lawsuits challenging the company’s planned benefit cuts.

Martens Ice Klass Legghio & Israel PC and Law Office of William Wertheimer represent the retirees. Faruki Ireland & Cox PLL and Kirkland & Ellis LLP represent Honeywell.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jacklyn Wille in Washington at jwille@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bna.com

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