Employees in Chicago and nationwide often wonder if their benefits are protected if they are terminated or experience a layoff in an effort by their employer to avoid paying expensive plan benefits. So, are employees with high medical expenses or employees with high benefit accruals at risk? This question is particularly important to employees age 55+ who are relying on a promise by their employer to receive certain benefits after retirement. ERISA section 510 makes it unlawful for any employer to discharge, fine, suspend, expel, discipline, or discriminate against a participant or beneficiary for exercising any right to which he in entitled or may become entitled under an ERISA plan.
Recently, an employer unsuccessfully attempted to defeat a former employee’s claim that her termination was “pretextual” to deprive her of retiree benefits, but her ERISA 510 claim was not defeated. Hannan v. Bus. Journal Publ’ns Inc., No. 3:14-cv-00831-SB, 2015 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 159884 (D. Or. Nov. 30, 2015). Pamela Hannan was fired eighteen months shy of being qualified for lifetime retiree health insurance benefits. In addition to her wrongful termination claim she sued her employer under ERISA 510, claiming that her employer unlawfully interfered with her benefits. The employer argued in support of its motion for summary judgment that her claim could not proceed because she failed to provide genuine issues of material fact regarding the employer’s termination. The Court disagreed. Though Hannan did not have extensive evidence, she had enough to overcome dismissal of her claim. The evidence she brought included facts supported that although Defendants, her employers, claimed they eliminated Hannan’s position upon her termination, Defendants hired someone else to perform Hannan’s previous duties. Hannan also presented evidence supporting that Defendants expressed concern about the cost of retiree health insurance prior to her termination, including reducing benefits for existing employees and eliminating benefits for new employees.
If you have been terminated or otherwise deprived of you employee benefits, speak to an experienced ERISA attorney today.