Halliburton sues retirees who complained about plan to cut insurance for retired employees

Saturday, July 31st 2004, 11:43 am
By: News On 6

HOUSTON (AP) _ Halliburton Co. is suing three retired executives who complained about a company plan to stop providing health insurance for retirees eligible for Medicare.

The lawsuit was filed after the retirees, including former Halliburton vice president of human resources Paul Bryant, sent a letter to company officials to complain about the change. Bryant, 58, retired from the oil services conglomerate in 1999.

Halliburton spokeswoman Zelma Branch said the company sued so the dispute would be resolved quickly, allowing the retirees to arrange for their own medical coverage.

The retirees and Halliburton officials both want a judge to certify the case as a class-action lawsuit.

The case hinges on whether the 1998 merger agreement between Halliburton and Dresser Industries required Halliburton to keep paying benefits to 4,000 salaried retirees. Bryant and the two other retired executives argue it does.

But Halliburton contends in the lawsuit, filed Jan. 21, that it repeatedly stated in merger documents that it retained the right to change or terminate its health insurance plans. The change is scheduled to take effect Jan. 1.

Employment attorney Joe Ahmad, who is not connected to the case, said Halliburton's decision to sue was unusual, but it meant Halliburton could choose where the case was filed and present its side first.

``A lot of times, you can win before the other side can even speak,'' Ahmad told the Houston Chronicle in Saturday's editions.

Congress is investigating allegations that Halliburton overcharged the government on contracts related to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The company denies any wrongdoing.

Vice President Dick Cheney was chief executive of Halliburton from 1995-2000. Cheney left the company in 2000 to be President Bush's running mate.