A US Bankruptcy Court judge has upheld Delphi Corp’s right to end healthcare benefits for non-union retirees, rejecting objections from a committee representing the group.

Attorneys representing a group of the white collar retirees argued in the Southern District of New York court that Delphi’s former owner, General Motors Corp., promised them lifetime coverage.

But in a 23-page opinion, Judge Robert Drain said he agreed that bankruptcy law allows companies to cancel the benefits. Drain said Delphi had clearly demonstrated it has the right to modify the plans at will.

A Delphi retiree’s group intends to appeal.

Delphi, in bankruptcy protection since October 2005, expects to save more than US$70m per year by cutting those benefits to about 15,000 white-collar retirees.

The benefits amount to liabilities of more than US$1.1bn on Delphi’s balance sheet.