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Florida Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments in Public Employee Pension Case

On September 7, the Florida Supreme Court (the “Court”) heard oral arguments concerning an appeal by state officials seeking to overturn a decision issued by state court Judge Jackie Fulford in Leon County, Florida that voided a law that, among other things, required public employees to contribute 3% of their pay into a state retirement system. The central issue in Scott v. Williams, SC122-520, is whether the state of Florida can revise the terms of the public pension plan for active participants who were hired before the law took effect. The State, along with local governments and other public entities that participate in the state retirement system, argued that the lower court’s decision will produce significant financial hardship for the State, which will have to repay an estimated $1 billion in worker contributions if the decision is upheld. No timetable was given for a decision from the Court.

Florida legislators introduced the bill in 2010. By mandating contributions into the state retirement system, the State saved an estimated $1 billion for the 2011 budget year, and saved local governments $600 million. The law affects 560,000 public employees at the state and county levels, including teachers, police officers, firefighters, and civilian employees. Eleven public employees filed suit in Leon County, arguing that the law violated contract, property, and collective bargaining rights guaranteed by the State constitution. On March 6, Circuit Judge Jackie Fulford issued a decision which declared the mandatory 3% contribution unconstitutional. Specifically, Judge Fulford stated that the Legislature committed “an unconstitutional impairment of plaintiff’s contract with the State of Florida, an unconstitutional taking of private property without full compensation, and an abridgement of the rights of public employees to collectively bargain over conditions of employment.” The ruling has no impact the 3% contribution to the state retirement fund from employees hired after July 1, 2011, when the law went into place.

Chaired by Partner Brett J. Schneider, our Labor and Employment Law Group regularly represents both union and non-union employers in all aspects of labor and employment law matters. Specifically, our attorneys serve as chief negotiators on behalf of management in collective bargaining and otherwise advise management on bargaining strategy and legal issues related thereto.

Categories: Labor and EmploymentLitigationConstitutional LawContracts
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Author(s): Brett J. Schneider & Brooke P. Dolara