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.”
The court cited other case law that says ERISA § 1025(a) requires plan administrators to provide documentation showing “the total benefits accrued,” which has been “interpreted broadly to accommodate a plan participant’s request that the administrator provide the computations to support the amount stated.”
In addition, the court noted that Whirlpool’s own plan document provides that “[t]he Administrator shall make available to each Participant for examination by him upon request, at the offices of his Employer, a copy of the Plan and such records or copies thereof as may pertain to any benefits of such Participant under the Plan,” and the data the former employees seek pertains to their benefits under the plan.
The 31 former employees were notified that the factory where they worked in Bellevue, Ohio, was scheduled to close. They were provided a letter indicating the total years of credited service under Whirlpool’s retirement plan, but the former employees believe the years did not correspond to their union’s (UAW Local 1623) records.The opinion in Arp v. Whirlpool Corp. is here.