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December 2013 Archives

Frommert v. Conkright, No. 12-67 (2d Cir. Dec. 23, 2013)

After three trips to the district court - and a side visit to the U.S. Supreme Court - the Second Circuit issues a liability judgment in this ERISA matter, dating back to 1989. It holds the Xerox retirement plan liable as a matter of law for miscalculating retirement benefits and for misinforming class of their rights under the summary plan description (SPD). The case is remanded yet again to the district court for entry of remedy. Notably, the Second Circuit puts real teeth in the ERISA requirements in 29 U.S.C. §§ 1022 and 1054(h) that a plan must accurately inform participants of plan terms and of any amendments.

EEOC v. Mach Mining Inc., No 13-2456 (7th Cir. Dec. 20, 2013)

The EEOC posts a huge win in the Seventh Circuit, with the court holding that the agency's alleged failure to reasonably conciliate a claim with an employer does not pose an affirmative defense to a claim filed by the EEOC in court. In so holding, the circuit creates a split with six other circuits that have heretofore permitted employers to argue such a defense. "While we respect the views of our colleagues in these circuits," the panel holds, "we also recognize our duty to decide our cases independently and to disagree when we must."

Heimeshoff v. Hartford Life & Accident Ins. Co., No. 12-729 (U.S. S. Ct. Dec. 16, 2013)

The Supreme Court today - in a unanimous opinion authored by Justice Thomas - lays a trap for the unwary ERISA plan participant. It holds that an ERISA plan sponsor can impose its own limitations period and accrual rule for claims under ERISA § 502(a)(1)(B), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B), different from what is provided by state or federal law, provided that it is not "unreasonably short" (and remains subject to equitable exceptions). This post explains the significance of Monday's opinion and sets out three things that participants and beneficiaries must do to protect themselves from these legal landmines.

Henschel v. Clare Cnty. Road Comm'n, No. 13-1528 (6th Cir. Dec. 13, 2013)

The Sixth Circuit reverses summary judgment in an ADA case involving the operation of heavy equipment with a prosthetic leg. The court holds that it is prospectively for a jury, not a judge, to decide whether hauling such equipment to the worksite is an "essential function" of the job. The case highlights that formal job descriptions can sometimes differ markedly from in-the-field practice.

Intern Lawsuits Force Progressive Media to Look Closely at Their Own Intern Policies

In his recent piece in Vice, former unpaid intern, Charles Davis, exposes the hypocrisy of liberal periodicals that write about labor exploitation but use unpaid interns to staff their newsrooms. According to Davis, even Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor and advocate for low wage workers, claimed to have never thought about the issue of unpaid internships.

Rochow v. Life Ins. Co. of N. Am., No. 12-2074 (6th Cir. Dec. 6, 2013)

The Sixth Circuit, in a 2-1 opinion, issues an important remedies ruling under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The majority holds that a disability plan participant who was wrongfully denied benefits was entitled to both recovery of the benefit and disgorgement of the plan's profits from the delay of payment. The disgorgement remedy - affirmed by the panel majority - was $3.8 million, based on the finding that the plan treated the withheld benefit as general equity and earned 11 to 39% annually on the money.

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