Benefits Highlights Brochure Does Not Qualify As An SPD

August 12, 2005 ( - A court has found that a requirement omitted from a benefits brochure can still be enforced in spite of the omission.

The widow of a Henkel Corp. employee sued the company for her husband’s life insurance saying the brochure should be considered the plan’s Summary Plan Description (SPD) since it was the only information distributed to employees about the plan, according to an EBIA report.

According to the report, a plan requirement that employees be actively at work on January 1, 2003 in order for coverage to become effective was not mentioned in the brochure.   The brochure contained a disclaimer that, in the event of a conflict between the brochure and the plan document, the plan document would govern.   The employee enrolled in the plan in September of 2002, but by January 1, 2003, he had become ill and was on disability leave.  

The court determined that many items required of an SPD were excluded from the brochure, so it did not qualify as an SPD, EBIA reports.   Additionally, the court said the plan document would still govern, even if the brochure were an SPD.

The court said the employee’s reliance on the brochure was not justified due to unambiguous plan terms and the disclaimer which referenced the plan document.

The decision was made in the case of Miehls v. Henkel Corp., No. 04-CV-72287-DT (E.D. Mich. July 13, 2005).