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NASHVILLE, Tenn.--A federal judge has granted class action status to a lawsuit filed against Caterpillar Inc. by retirees and surviving spouses of retirees who say the Peoria, Ill.-based manufacturing giant reneged on its promise of free lifetime retiree health insurance benefits.
The plaintiffs allege Caterpillar promised lifetime, no-cost health benefits under union contracts but began charging them for a portion of their medical care in 2004 without their consent in violation of the Labor Management Relations Act and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.
The plaintiffs sued on behalf of a class of all retirees and surviving spouses of retirees who were represented by the union and who retired on or after Jan. 1, 1992, and before March 16, 1998.
A judge for the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee in Nashville granted class certification Thursday.
According to the Chicago law firm of Meites, Mulder, Mollica & Glink, which is representing the plaintiffs, the class represents more than 4,000 retirees and surviving spouses of retirees.
Plaintiffs are seeking an order declaring they are vested in lifetime medical benefits under 1988 labor contracts, an injunction requiring Caterpillar to restore all affected class members, compensatory and punitive damages.
A spokeswoman for Caterpillar declined to comment, citing corporate policy not to discuss pending litigation.