Court dismisses Consol appeal in retired miners’ benefits case

Source: Post Gazette 

United Mine Workers of America is claiming a small win after a West Virginia judge dismissed Consol Energy’s appeal in a retiree health benefit case.

The ruling by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals leaves in place a temporary injunction requiring the energy company to keep providing benefits while a broader case is under appeal. That means some 3,400 retired miners, widows and dependents will continue to receive benefits for the time being.

Cecil-based Consol had sought to fund health savings accounts for five years rather than pay contractually negotiated lifetime benefits. Judge David A. Faber of the Federal Court for Southern West Virginia rejected that plan in March. Consol filed an appeal, which the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit dismissed on Tuesday.

“This is another step forward in the case but it is far from over,” said UMWA International President Cecil E. Roberts. Consol has been “focused on grasping every dollar at the expense of thousands of senior citizens — the very people who created the wealth that allowed Consol to make billions of dollars for decades,” he said.

Plaintiffs in the case say Consol misled them into retiring earlier than they might have by promising lifetime benefits including $2,500 per year to cover deductibles and copayments. Instead, the company announced it would end those benefits in 2015. Plaintiffs argue that’s a violation of the Employee Retirement and Income Security Act of 1974.

A spokesman for Consol did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Washington Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello:; 703-996-9292 or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets.