Court Moves Forward Claim Employer Interfered with Health Benefits

January 22, 2010 ( – A federal court has refused to dismiss a claim by a Jersey Construction employee that he was fired for pursuing health benefits for his wife's chemotherapy.

The U.S. District Court for the District of New Jersey said it found that Christian Pailleret stated sufficient facts to support a prima facie case under § 510 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). The court said Pailleret had no “smoking gun” evidence of intent, but the fact that almost immediately after he submitted medical claims of tens of thousands of dollars, he was assigned low-level and “degrading” tasks and shortly after that was terminated without notice or explanation was sufficient to show a plausible claim and “to thus unlock the doors of discovery.”

The court rejected Jersey Construction’s argument that the only evidence of intent is proximity – or that the termination took place shortly after Pailleret exercised his rights to health benefits.

According to the court opinion, Jersey Construction hired Pailleret around October 2005 as a diesel mechanic, and within the first year of his employment he received a raise based on good performance. Approximately four months later, Pailleret’s wife was diagnosed with breast cancer, and he immediately informed his supervisor of her diagnosis.

As a result of Pailleret wife’s surgeries, chemotherapy, and subsequent treatment, he submitted reimbursement claims in the amount of tens of thousands of dollars to the Jersey Construction, Inc. Employee Health and Welfare Benefits Plan. Almost immediately afterwards Pailleret was assigned various lower level, odd jobs that he had never before been asked to do – some purportedly “onerous and beneath Mr. Pailleret’s skill level” and in “degrading” work conditions the court said.

Pailleret alleged this was for the purpose of coercing him to resign so his employer did not have to pay benefits. When he didn’t resign, sometime in 2007, he was terminated on the spot and instructed to leave the premises immediately. His supervisor refused to give any details about the reason for the termination. Pailleret had never received written warnings before the termination.

The case is Pailleret v. Jersey Construction Inc., D.N.J., No. 09-1325 (RBK/JS), 1/11/10.