AEA won the PEEHIP lawsuit! In a much-anticipated ruling, Montgomery County Judge Johnny Hardwick issued a decision in favor of AEA. In the lawsuit, AEA contended that the PEEHIP Board violated the Alabama Open Meetings Act. In his 13-page order, Judge Hardwick agreed with AEA’s contentions and ruled that the actions taken at that meeting, including the increases in premiums and spousal surcharges, were invalid. Specifically, he said “It is Ordered, Adjudged, and Decreed that the actions of the Defendants taken on April 27, 2016 are invalidated as a violation of the Alabama Open Meetings Act, Section 36-25A-1 et seq., Code of Alabama 1975, as amended.”
Judge Hardwick concluded his ruling by stating, “Meanwhile, the amounts now held in escrow must be distributed by the Defendants back to the PEEHIP members who contributed those amounts.”
This decision should not have any major impact on PEEHIP’s finances. Diane Scott, Chief Accountant and Financial Officer for RSA, when speaking to the Legislature about PEEHIP’s funding in the budget and the money being held in escrow said that “We’re not counting that money.”
Sherry Tucker, AEA President, said, “This is a great day for AEA and for all public education employees. I’d like to thank the AEA Legal Department and our entire team for their hard work and for this well-deserved victory.”
Sheila Remington, AEA Past President and the plaintiff in the lawsuit, said, “We are thankful that Judge Hardwick saw this situation for what it was – a violation of the Open Meetings Act to ram through a premium increase without public discussion or debate.”
Dr. Brenda Pike, AEA Executive Director, said “For many of our members, the PEEHIP Board’s actions completely took away the legislative pay raise that was so richly deserved. For everyone else, it took a large portion of it. We hope that the PEEHIP Board members will take this opportunity to reflect on their action and will take appropriate steps to ensure that the increases will not go into effect in accordance with the Judge’s order.”
Theron Stokes, AEA Associate Executive Director, said, “The fact that PEEHIP has functioned just fine without these funds should inform the board members that their action wasn’t the dire necessity their staff told them it was during the illegal closed meeting. As we have from the beginning, and as Judge Hardwick noted in his order, AEA stands ready to work with the PEEHIP staff and to give guidance and perspective to the PEEHIP Board in crafting a solution to any funding shortfall that does not unduly burden our members.”
This is a huge victory for AEA members. As always, AEA was the ONLY association willing to take the fight to the powerful and represent the best interests of all educators. While some other “associations” like to let AEA take the lead in major fights like this, then come along and say “Us, too,” none did in this case and AEA fought this battle alone. While it took a year of hard-fought litigation, AEA came out victorious. AEA continues to evaluate the order and the process through which the funds held in escrow will be paid out to PEEHIP participants. As details become available, we will share them with our members.
To read Judge Hardwick's complete ruling, click here.