Jun 15

Do I have an ERISA claim?


ERISA protects against retaliation

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) was enacted to protect the economic security of American employees by regulating employer-sponsored pension and welfare plans. The statute establishes comprehensive rules that govern the design and administration of such plans.  To provide some teeth to the rules, ERISA authorizes civil litigation to remedy violations.

Generally, ERISA prohibits employers from retaliating against employee-benefit plan participants and depriving them of any rights that attach to the plan. ERISA § 510 prohibits unlawful discharge or employer discrimination of any kind “against a participant or beneficiary for exercising any right to which he is entitled under the provisions of an employee benefit plan … or for the purpose of interfering with the attainment of any right to which such participant may become entitled” under the plan or ERISA.

More specifically, the provision makes it unlawful for employers to discharge or discriminate against “any person because he has given information or has testified or is about to testify in any inquiry or proceeding” relating to ERISA employee-benefit rights.  Courts have also interpreted ERISA to protect whistleblowers who report violations or potential violations of ERISA from retaliation.

What must be proved to establish an ERISA retaliation claim?

To establish a prima facie retaliation claim under § 510, a plaintiff must show that he or she is entitled to an ERISA protected right; he or she engaged in protected activity under that right; the employer took adverse employment action against him or her; and there is a causal connection between the employer’s retaliation and the protected activity.  Like many retaliation claims, the causal connection may be established by circumstantial proof that the discharge followed the protected activity so closely in time that it justifies an inference of a retaliatory motive.

ERISA’s antiretaliation provision may be broader than other federal antiretaliation provisions because protection is not limited to activity taken in the course of formal proceedings or solely in the context of an employer-employee relationship, as §510 does not preclude individual liability for people who retaliate against plaintiffs for exercising their ERISA rights.

You may be able to pair your ERISA claim with other retaliation claims. For example, in Roy v. Kimble Chase Life Science & Research Products, LLC, the plaintiff brought an action against her employer, as well as the company’s human resources manager, for unlawful retaliation in violation of the FMLA and interference with ERlSA-protected rights in violation of § 510. The plaintiff alleged the defendants made discriminatory remarks regarding her FMLA leave and subsequently terminated her employment.

You should contact an attorney like Philip McGrady to assist with handling these types of claims.


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