AGMA Funds Sue NY City Opera

Trustees of the American Guild of Musical Artists health fund and retirement plan have filed a federal lawsuit against New York City Opera and its board, complaining that the company has reneged on paying $160,058 in health benefits for guild members.

In a complaint filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, the guild requested the court order payment of those funds, plus interest estimated at $4,773.30 on all contributions to AGMA's health and benefit funds as of Dec. 17, 2001. The guild, which filed the suit on Dec. 18, is also seeking liquidated damages of 20% of the unpaid contributions. The plaintiffs are complaining that the opera company's nonpayment is endangering the rights of AGMA members of the health and retirement funds, and "will cause approximately 80 City Opera employees to lose health coverage" for this year.

According to the lawsuit, the health fund's trustees added dental benefits to the health plan package effective Sept. 1, 1999. At the end of that month, "a dispute arose as to whether City Opera was obligated to continue to pay the full contribution amount" to the health fund, the lawsuit noted, adding that the opera company "alleged" it shouldn't have to pay dental benefits. City Opera's position on that issue isn't stated further in the suit; but it is clear that dental benefits weren't included in an earlier arbitration decision under which the two sides were operating at the time of the lawsuit's filing.

By Dec. 14, 2000, the two sides had apparently settled the dispute by entering a contract by which City Opera agreed to pay the health fund a past-due amount totaling $34,752, which included principal and interest. Also, in return for that payment and continued contributions from City Opera, the health and retirement trustees agreed to appoint Derrick Davis as an alternate trustee representing the opera company.

The lawsuit maintains that the agreement unraveled on Feb. 26, 2001 when "City Opera refused to pay the interest portion of the past due amount," and in May asserted it would not pay any delinquent contributions unless Davis was seated as a principal trustee. The plaintiffs maintain they were prepared to seat Davis as an alternate, as the agreement called for, but not as a principal trustee.

The plaintiffs complain that City Opera's refusal to pay the disputed contributions put the company in violation of the Dec. 14, 2000 agreement and other contracts, as well as the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974.

A call to the opera company's press and public relations office wasn't returned by press time.