Justia Civil Rights Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in ERISA
Adam Ruessler v. Boilermaker-Blacksmith National Pension Trust
The Boilermaker-Blacksmith National Pension Trust Board of Trustees (“Board”) denied Plaintiff’s application for disability pension benefits under a plan governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”). Plaintiff argued the Board’s stated reason for denying his application was unreasonable and the Board violated its fiduciary duties. The district court granted the Board’s motion for summary judgment. Plaintiff appealed. The Eighth Circuit affirmed. The court concluded that the Board did not breach its fiduciary duty when it did not notify Plaintiff the Notice of Decision he submitted on appeal was insufficient. The initial letter the Board sent to Plaintiff noting the absence of the document clearly stated Plaintiff needed to submit a “Notice of Award.” When the plain language of the Plan and the Board’s other communications are consistent, there is no obvious unfairness to Plaintiff if his claim is denied because he submitted the wrong document. Further, the court found that there is no evidence the Board knew silence would harm Plaintiff because, in the May 2018 phone call, Plaintiff himself asked about how waiting to receive the pension would affect the annuity amount and ultimately requested estimates for retirement at later ages. Moreover, Plaintiff has not identified anything that should have caused the Board to know he misunderstood his rights. Under these circumstances, Plaintiff failed to establish a violation of the duty of loyalty. View "Adam Ruessler v. Boilermaker-Blacksmith National Pension Trust" on Justia Law
Doe v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc.
Plaintiffs, individuals living with HIV/AIDS who have employer-sponsored health plans, and who rely on those plans to obtain prescription drugs, filed suit alleging that CVS's program violates the anti-discrimination provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and the California Unruh Civil Rights Act (Unruh Act); denies them benefits to which they are entitled under the Employee Retirement Security Act (ERISA); and violates California's Unfair Competition Law (UCL). The district court granted defendants' motion to dismiss.The Ninth Circuit held that Section 1557 of the ACA does not create a healthcare-specific anti-discrimination standard that allowed plaintiffs to choose standards from a menu provided by other anti-discrimination statutes. Because plaintiffs claim discrimination on the basis of their disability, to state a claim for a Section 1557 violation, they must allege facts adequate to state a claim under Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act. Applying the section 504 framework, the panel concluded that plaintiffs adequately alleged that they were denied meaningful access to their prescription drug benefit under their employer-sponsored health plans because the program prevents them from receiving effective treatment for HIV/AIDS. Therefore, plaintiffs have stated a claim for disability discrimination under the ACA.However, plaintiffs have failed to establish a claim of disability discrimination under the ADA, because they have not plausibly alleged that their benefit plan is a place of public accommodation. Finally, the panel upheld the district court's denial of plaintiffs' claims under ERISA and their cause of action under California's Unfair Competition Law. The panel affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "Doe v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc." on Justia Law
Williams v. FedEx Corporate
Steven Williams alleged that his former employer, FedEx Corporate Services, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by discriminating against him based on his actual and perceived disabilities, and by requiring his enrollment in the company’s substance abuse and drug testing program. Williams further alleges that Aetna Life Insurance Company, the administrator of FedEx’s short-term disability plan, breached its fiduciary duty under the Employee Retirement Income and Security Act (ERISA) when it reported to FedEx that Williams filed a disability claim for substance abuse. Both FedEx and Aetna filed motions for summary judgment, which the district court granted. After review, the Tenth Circuit affirmed in part, and reversed and remanded. An employer is liable for an improper medical examination or inquiry, “unless such examination or inquiry is shown to be job-related and consistent with business necessity.” FedEx argued that it satisfied the business necessity exception because its employee testing program “ensure that employees who seek assistance for drug abuse or dependencies are no longer abusing the drug if they return to FedEx.” The Tenth Circuit found that the district court did not address this argument. As a result, the Court did not have an adequate record from which it could decide this issue on appeal. The Court reversed for the district court to decide that issue, and affirmed in all other respects. View "Williams v. FedEx Corporate" on Justia Law
Sirva Relocation, LLC v. Golar Richie
In Sprint Commc’ns, Inc. v. Jacobs, the Supreme Court revisited the doctrine of abstention enunciated in Younger v. Harris. That doctrine requires federal courts, in the absence of extraordinary circumstances, to refrain from interfering with certain state proceedings. In this case, David Knight, an employee of Sirva Relocation, LLC, filed a charge of discrimination with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) alleging that Sirva and Aetna Life Insurance Company (together, Appellants) had discriminated against him on the basis of disability in violation of Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 151B and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Appellants filed a federal complaint against the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the MCAD, its commissioners, and Knight, asking the court to enjoin the MCAD proceeding on the basis that ERISA preempted the chapter 151B claim. The MCAD and Knight moved to dismiss the complaint, entreating the district court to abstain. While the case was pending, the Supreme Court decided Sprint. The district court dismissed the federal court action, concluding that Younger abstention was appropriate in this case. The First Circuit affirmed the district court’s decision to abstain and further clarified its own case law concerning the exception to the Younger doctrine for facially conclusive claims of preemption. View "Sirva Relocation, LLC v. Golar Richie" on Justia Law
Rice, et al. v. Reliastar Life Ins. Co.
Plaintiffs filed suit against Deputy Arnold and Sheriff Graves, alleging violations of federal and state law after Arnold fatally shot their father while responding to a 911 call that the father was threatening to commit suicide. Plaintiffs also filed suit against ReliaStar to recover $179,000 they allege ReliaStar owes them under the father's accidental death policy. The district court granted Arnold and Grave's motions for summary judgment and granted ReliaStar's motion for summary judgment. The court held that Arnold did not violate the father's Fourth Amendment rights when he entered the father's home without a warrant because he had an objectively reasonable belief that the father would imminently seriously injure himself, and the district court did not err in granting Arnold's motion for summary judgment on the warrantless entry claim because Arnold is entitled to qualified immunity; Arnold is entitled to qualified immunity because he did not violate the father's constitutional right to be free from excessive force; the district court did not err in granting summary judgment for Arnold on the assault and battery claims, the false imprisonment claims, and the intentional infliction of emotional distress claim; the district court correctly granted Graves's motion for summary judgment; and the district court did not err in granting summary judgment for ReliaStar where the record was replete with factual evidence that ReliaStar relied on in determining that the father's death was not accidental, demonstrating that ReliaStar could have reached its determination without resorting to the conflict of interest at issue. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court.View "Rice, et al. v. Reliastar Life Ins. Co." on Justia Law
Kwan v. The Andalex Group LLC
Plaintiff filed suit against her former employer, Andalex, alleging claims of discrimination, retaliation, and hostile work environment under federal and state law, as well as claims that Andalex failed to notify her of her right to continuing health care coverage under the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1985 (COBRA), 29 U.S.C. 1166 et seq. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Andalex and dismissed her claims. The court affirmed the district court's judgment except with respect to plaintiff's retaliation claims. Based on the discrepancies between the EEOC statement and subsequent testimony, a reasonable juror could infer that the explanation given by Andalex was pretextual, and that, coupled with the temporal proximity between the complaint and the termination, the complaint at issue was a but-for cause of defendant's termination. Accordingly, there was sufficient evidence to require denial of the summary judgment motion on the retaliation claims. View "Kwan v. The Andalex Group LLC" on Justia Law
Cruz v. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., PR, Inc.
After they were fired from their jobs, Appellants filed suit in federal district court against their former employer (Employer) and against the severance plan (Plan) established by Employer pursuant to ERISA. The complaint asserted federal claims under ERISA, ADEA, ADA, and other federal laws, and also asserted a breach of contract claim, an employment discrimination claim, and an unjustified dismissal claim under Puerto Rico law. The district court granted Appellees' motion for summary judgment. Appellants challenged that ruling as well as a number of the district court's other orders. The First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that there was no error in the management of this case or the grant of Appellees' motion for summary judgment. View "Cruz v. Bristol-Myers Squibb Co., PR, Inc." on Justia Law
Shrable v. Eaton Corp.
Plaintiff filed suit under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq., the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), 29 U.S.C. 201 et seq., and state law, alleging that defendant had retaliated against him after he raised complaints protected by those statutes. The district court granted summary judgment to defendant on the federal law claims and dismissed the state law claims without prejudice. The court concluded that plaintiff failed to make a prima facie case of retaliation under ERISA. Likewise, plaintiff failed to make a prima facie case of retaliation under the FLSA. At any rate, plaintiff failed to show a causal connection between his complaint about holiday meal time and his termination six months later. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Shrable v. Eaton Corp." on Justia Law
Sturge v. Northwest Airlines, Inc.
Appellant was terminated for cause from his employment with Northwest Airlines shortly after he was arrested for possession of marijuana. At the same time, appellant had pending with Northwest a request for disability retirement benefits. Northwest later granted appellant's request, but he was ineligible for certain retirement benefits as a result of the termination. Appellant sued Northwest, claiming that the termination violated section 510 of the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1140. The district court denied Northwest's motion to dismiss for lack of subject-matter jurisdiction, but granted its motion for summary judgment. The court held that the district court properly exercised jurisdiction over the case where appellant's claim did not require an interpretation of a collectively bargained agreement. The court also held that appellant failed to show a causal connection between his termination and his application for disability retirement benefits. The court rejected appellant's remaining arguments. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court.
Tomlinson v. El Paso Corp.
Petitioners Wayne Tomlinson, Alice Ballesteros and Gary Muckelroy appealed the dismissal of their claims against El Paso Corporation and the El Paso Pension Plan (collectively "El Paso") brought under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Plaintiffs' claims concern "wear-away" periods that occurred during El Paso's transition to a new pension plan. They contended that the wear-away periods violated the ADEA's prohibition on age discrimination and the anti-backloading and notice provisions of ERISA. The trial court found that El Paso's transition favored, rather than discriminated against, older employees; and the plan was frontloaded rather than backloaded. Accordingly, the Tenth Circuit's review concluded that ERISA did not require notification of wear-away periods so long as employees were informed and forewarned of plan changes. The Court affirmed the lower court's decision dismissing Petitioners' claims.