Is the long-running lawsuit aimed at regaining University of California healthcare for Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory retirees finally coming to a close?

The question arose last week after UC Regents scheduled a closed-session briefing on the suit during a regular monthly meeting being held this week at UCLA.

No advance information was available on the details of the briefing, which took place after the Independent went to press Tuesday evening. The agenda referred to it as a recommended settlement for board action.

Neither retirees nor university officials would say what the nature of a settlement might be or whether it is actually imminent.

Still, a recent letter to members of the ad hoc retiree group that has carried on the suit noted that group leaders have engaged in more than 10 mediation sessions with university counterparts.

The letter cited “slow but steady progress” toward a resolution, without offering details of what a settlement might contain.

At the same time, it cautioned that “if we do reach a final agreement… it will involve a compromise, and we will not get everything we are asking for (in) the lawsuit.”

UC managed the laboratory from its founding in 1952, so LLNL employees were just like those at Berkeley or UCLA. Nine years later, the Board of Regents authorized the expansion of health care benefits to cover UC retirees in addition to active employees.

Laboratory retirees enjoyed UC health care benefits until 2008, shortly after a for-profit consortium replaced it as manager. That year, retirees were forced to find health care in individual, industrial-style programs, some of which were less reliable and more expensive than UC’s had been.

Many of the retirees considered the loss of UC healthcare to be a violation of commitments made during their careers at the laboratory — promises on which some based career decisions.

They tried to negotiate a return to university healthcare programs. When that didn’t work, they formed a grassroots organization called the UC Livermore Retiree Group, raised money and, in 2010, filed suit. It became a class action four years later.

During the years of litigation, the retirees experienced both wins and losses. Significantly, they won two Court of Appeal decisions.

Despite these favorable rulings, the recent retiree group letter noted, “we have to balance what we can get now (in a possible settlement) against what we might get if the litigation goes on.”

Even if the retirees come out on top in a trial, “there will almost certainly be an appeal by the losing side and years of delay.”

If the parties reach a settlement now, the letter pointed out, several steps remain.

For one, there will be a court hearing on preliminary settlement approval.

Assuming approval, a mailing to members of the lawsuit class would explain the terms and allow them to raise concerns.

After that, the court would have to give final approval before the settlement can be implemented.

The ad hoc UC Livermore Retiree Group is distinct from Livermore Laboratory Retirees Association, although many members are part of both.