Supreme Court Upholds $21.4 Million Award in Pension Case

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – The Montana Supreme Court has upheld a $21.4 million judgment against NorthWestern Corp. and several of its executives, in a case filed by 15 retired Montana Power Co. executives whose supplemental retirement benefits were cut off in 2005 without notice.

When NorthWestern Corp. of South Dakota bought the transmission assets of the Montana Power Co. in 2002, it also assumed responsibility for hundreds of contracts, including supplemental pensions offered to some MPC employees for taking early retirement.

When NorthWestern went through bankruptcy reorganization, its board of directors decided to stop paying the pensions. Some MPC retirees testified that they received no notice and the checks stopped for nearly a year.

In February 2007, a District Court jury in Butte awarded the retirees $17.4 million in compensatory damages and $4 million in punitive damages for the emotional and financial stress the retirees suffered.

The Supreme Court, in a 5-2 decision released Wednesday, did order the District Court to reduce the judgment by the amount of money paid the retirees since the case was decided.

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