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Retirement and Pension Benefits


Bartolic Law handles disputes with Supplemental Executive Retirement Plans, Single-Employer Defined Benefit Plans, and Multi-Employer Defined Benefit Plans. Michael has helped many clients make pension claims, appeal pension denials, and litigate retirement benefit disputes under ERISA § 502(a). Bartolic Law is the leader in Retirement and Pension Disputes. Chicago is the home of organized labor, and has many single employer and multi-employer pension plans. Corporations also provide Supplemental Executive Retirement Plans to key employees. Bartolic Law is nationally renowned for its work on challenging retirement benefit denials. We have helped clients from all walks of life in their retirement benefit disputes, including C-Level Executives, Senior Vice Presidents, and men and women in the trades. Some of our work includes:

  • Terminations before vesting of SERPs
  • Undercalculating credited earnings while on foreign assignments
  • Misapplication of qualifiers for enhanced retirement
  • Misclassification of employment to deny service credits
  • Misapplication of disqualifying employment clauses to work while retired
  • Denials of years of service
  • Denying vesting service while under a third party’s management
  • Retroactive changes in application of terms
  • Change in control triggers of benefits


Supplemental Executive Retirement Plans are unique in that they are governed by ERISA, but exempt from most of ERISA’s protections, like vesting requirements, requirements assets be held in trust, and fiduciary responsibilities. Often executives consult general employment lawyers who lack the experience in ERISA disputes to capably handle the dispute. While in general employment law, prevailing plaintiffs generally are awarded attorney’s fees, under ERISA, either side can obtain them for less than prevailing. Clients with SERPs generally have assets, so the risk of hiring a lawyer that does not focus on ERISA could cost you hundreds of thousands of dollars. Borrowing from Ray Dalio’s “Principles of Life and Work,” make sure the probability of the unacceptable is nil. You may be comfortable enough to lose your claim, but nobody wants to end up owing the employer. Hire Bartolic Law to ensure your valid claim is handled properly, and you do not end up paying the employer instead.

Not only rank-and-file employees file pension disputes. Often Executives, Partners, Accountants, Lawyers, and Physician participate in SERPs (also called “Top Hat Plans” under ERISA).

Michael Bartolic has represented C-level executives and Senior Vice Presidents in challenging denials of supplemental benefit plans and Long-Term Incentive Plans.



Bartolic Law represented a Senior Vice President terminated shortly before his Supplemental Executive Retirement Plan and Long-Term Incentive Plan vested, which would have triggered an additional $1 million in retirement benefits. We challenged the basis for termination as pretext to avoid payment of the SERP. With enough determination and grit, we achieved a favorable outcome for the client, equipping the client’s family to still have the retirement they dreamed about.


Bartolic Law represented a client working for a U.S. Based Company on its shipping operations. The company claimed the client was not an employee entitled to service under the pension plan, and instead was an employee of the shipping management company. In litigation, Michael Bartolic fought to obtain records and documentation showing the shipping management company merely managed the U.S. Company’s employees. We were able to equip our client to retire with dignity, and live the life the client’s family planned for their golden years.


Michael Bartolic represented a client against a Teamsters Pension Plan that misapplied its own definition of “Retired,” which was inartfully defined as cessation of employment in covered employment or engaging in employment with a Contributing Employer. The Pension Plan argued because our client ceased covered employment, but remained employed by the employer, he “retired” under the Plan two years earlier, disqualifying him from an enhanced pension. Michael Bartolic persuaded the Seventh Circuit that under the circumstances, the word “or” must mean “and,” because other terms in the plan relied on the same definition and applied it in other contexts as Bartolic Law argued. We not only won the enhanced pension for our client, but ensured other Teamsters union members could not fall victim to the same harm.


Most pension plans impose limits on the type of employment in which you can engage while receiving a pension. ERISA dictates the maximum restrictions that pension can impose after Normal Retirement Age, but allows plans to choose greater restrictions prior to Normal Retirement Age. A pension plan suspended a client’s pension due to work the plan alleged was in the same trade or craft. Through investigating the jurisdiction of the sponsoring union, and the employment type, we successfully reversed this decision out of court, obtaining full reinstatement of our client’s pension.


Michael Bartolic combines a strong accounting and finance background with an unmatched ability to understand proper interpretation of plan terms, identifying when plans misapply their own terms. Michael Bartolic helped a client who went on a foreign assignment to a higher taxed country. Often employers “gross up” the employee’s salary to incentivize the employee to accept the relocation, making up for the higher taxes. But when pension calculation time came, the employer tried to adjust the earnings down. By interpreting the plan definitions and uncovering internal communications, Bartolic Law presented a convincing case that the employer lacked any basis to deviate from its formula for calculating earnings, despite it resulting in a much higher pension for the client.

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