The Virginia Supreme Court on Thursday threw out a circuit court ruling that required Albemarle County to pay the originally promised retirement stipends to employees who took early retirement in 2008.
County officials were sued by 13 of 42 employees who took an early retirement after the county discovered a clerical error nearly a year after the retirement offer, and cut some employee stipends by $400 a month. An Albemarle Circuit Court jury ruled in favor of the employees in 2011.
But the commonwealth's high court ruled that employees failed to give the county enough notice of the impending lawsuit and ordered the jury award tossed out "with prejudice." That means the suit cannot be refiled.
"We are pleased that the supreme court reversed the circuit court's decision because it is important that the correct procedures are followed any time there's a claim against the county," said Larry Davis, Albemarle County attorney.
Employees argued that they would not have accepted the early retirement had the original offer from the county reflected the correct figure. They argued that they relied on the figures their employer gave them when making the decision.
The circuit court jury in 2011 awarded the 13 employees the original amount of retirement funding that the county claimed was overpayment. The county appealed the verdict to the state supreme court.
Albemarle officials claimed the employees had not provided written notice of their plan to appeal the county's decision to not stick to the original agreement, although the employees had filed an appeal bond. The county also argued that there was no contract with the employees because the amount to which the employees agreed was inaccurate and not approved by county officials.
The state supreme court on Thursday agreed with the county regarding notice and declined to consider the contractual argument.
"We therefore conclude that the statutorily required written notice of appeal was insufficient," Justice Leroy F. Millette Jr. wrote on behalf of the supreme court majority. "As a result, we do not reach the merits of the [inaccurate offer]."
Employees in the suit indicated Thursday that they had not seen the supreme court's decision. They directed inquiries to their attorney, who could not be reached for comment by press time.
The county offered employees early retirement in an effort to reduce costs in the wake of the recession. The mistake that offered the employees more retirement benefits came in a "spreadsheet calculation," county officials said.
County supervisors decided in a closed-door meeting to allow employees to keep the money that had been overpaid rather than demanding it be repaid, but reduced future payments.