August 2, 2012 (PLANSPONSOR.com) – A federal judge has determined that retirement plan participants have a right to sue a plan sponsor that does not provide details used for benefits calculations.
Thirty-one former employees of Whirlpool Corporation sued the company after repeated requests for a breakdown of hours awarded for each year and an explanation of why some years were credited as less than one were denied. Whirlpool moved for dismissal of the claims arguing that nothing in the Employee Retirement Security Act (ERISA) required them to provide details of the employees’ service calculations.
U.S. District Judge Jack Zouhary of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio rejected the motion to dismiss, saying Whirlpool interpreted its disclosure obligations under ERISA too narrowly.
Whirlpool cited ERISA § 1024(b)(4) which provides: “The administrator shall, upon written request of any participant or beneficiary, furnish a copy of the latest updated summary, plan description, and the latest annual report, any terminal report, the bargaining agreement, trust agreement, contract, or other instruments under which the plan is established or operated.” The company argued that “other instruments” only includes information concerning how the plan is operated and not documents used in the ministerial day-to-day processing of individual benefit claims. Zouhary said the information disclosure provisions of ERISA are intended to be broad, noting that the U.S. Supreme Court emphasized that Congress’ purpose “in enacting the ERISA disclosure provisions” was to ensure that “‘the individual participant knows exactly where he stands with respect to the plan.”