DOL backs employee seeking retirement benefits

Texas auto workers may be interested to learn that, on July 28, the Department of Labor filed an amicus brief that supported a Chrysler Group LLC retiree who was seeking to recover enhanced early retirement benefits. According to the court documents, the retiree was seeking the right to pursue equitable claims against his plan after being denied benefits due to undisclosed plan terms.

Earlier, a magistrate judge and a federal district judge both determined that the retiree was not eligible to receive additional benefits under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act due to his inability to show that the company intended to deceive him with regards to his benefits. The DOL objected to this standard as summary plan descriptions are often the only documents available when it comes to explaining employees' rights and responsibilities.

Essentially, the DOL urged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 6th Circuit to hold that in the event an ERISA plan does not have terms that match the summary plan description, those who have the plan have the ability to seek equitable reformation. This is the first amicus brief filed by the DOL under the Trump administration.

In many circumstances, employees who spend decades working for an employer are eligible to receive certain employee benefits, which can include pensions or a retirement plan. If people discover that they are not eligible to receive some of the benefits they were led to believe they would be receiving, attorneys could assist with seeking those benefits. An attorney may find evidence that the employer intentionally deceived the employee. Even if no evidence of deception is found, the attorney could potentially still seek the missing retirement benefits under an equitable theory.

Source: Bloomberg, "Chrysler Worker Gets DOL Support in Pension Mismatch Case", Jacklyn Wille, July 31, 2017

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