Twelve former employees of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch have sued the paper, saying corporate officials lied to them about the benefits the employees would receive after taking an early retirement offer in 2007.
The six copy editors, three photographers, a reporter, a news aide and a wire desk editor were among the 60 employees to take the buyouts, which included both oral and written promises of free lifetime health insurance. Attorney Staci Yandle says her 12 clients would not have taken the retirement without that benefit.
Yandle says the company offered the insurance until January 2011, when it stopped paying the premiums.
"We have people who are no longer insured because they can't afford it," Yandle said. "I understand changed circumstances, but at the same time, when you make this kind of promise and you're asking people to give up their livelihood in exchange for certain things, you have to live up to it."
Yandle says the announcement on Friday by Lee Enterprises that it was seeking Chapter 11 bankruptcy will not affect her lawsuit because it's filed directly against the Post-Dispatch. Lee is the paper's parent company.
In a statement, a Post-Dispatch spokeswoman called the allegations baseless. The paper also faces two federal lawsuits over allegations it nullified a collective bargaining agreement by stopping lifetime benefits for about 250 retired employees who retired after 2004.