William Giblin was employed by Johnson City, New York as a firefighter. When he retired, he received family coverage health insurance benefits for himself and his then-wife pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement in effect between the City and Giblin’s firefighters’ union. The relevant provision of the contract provided that “all present retirees of the Fire Department and all members who retire in the future shall continue to receive Blue Cross, Blue Shield Major Medical Insurance coverage for themselves and their dependents (or comparable coverage as may then be in effect).”
After his retirement, Giblin and his wife divorced, which terminated his ex-wife’s health care benefits. When Giblin remarried, he attempted to add his new wife to the City’s health care plan. When the City rejected his request, he brought a lawsuit.
The Appellate Division of New York’s Supreme Court ruled that the City could not deny Giblin’s request to add his new wife as a dependent on the health care plan. As the Court analyzed, “the contract states that Giblin, as a retiree, ‘shall continue to receive’ health insurance coverage for himself and his dependents. Although the City relies heavily on the word ‘continue,’ when the whole sentence is read in context it says that insurance coverage will continue for retirees and their dependents, not that retirees will continue to receive the same type of coverage (family or individual). Nothing in the agreement freezes benefits so as to limit coverage to people who are dependents of a retiree at the time of retirement. Nor does the agreement specifically prohibit retirees from changing their enrollment from individual to family coverage or vice versa.
“While Giblin’s ex-wife was no longer eligible for coverage at the time of their divorce, Giblin did not request a change to individual coverage and, when he remarried, he merely desired to continue receiving family coverage as he had at the time of his retirement. Based upon the plain language of the contract, the City must provide health insurance benefits to Giblin.”
Giblin v. Village of Johnson City, 2010 WL 2773519 (N.Y. A.D. 3 Dept. 2010).
This article appears in the October 2010 issue