Different Retaliation Claims Warrant Different Court Conclusions

June 9, 2006 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - The US District Court for the District of Minnesota recently sent one retaliation claim to trial while granting summary judgment to the defendant in the other.

In the case ofSimons v. Midwest Telephone Sales and Service Inc., and Frank Bagot Sr., the court decided that the evidence created “a genuine issue for trial” and denied a motion for summary judgment by the plaintiff. In addition, the court decided that Bagot, and not the company, could be held liable for the alleged retaliation since he was the one who fired the plaintiff.

Roseanne Cauley Simons had brought a claim against her employer of Section 510 of the Employee Income Security Act (ERISA), ERISA’s anti-alienation of benefits.   According to the court document, Simons says she was fired immediately after presenting a letter to Bagot, her supervisor, asking when the company was going to make employer contributions into participants’ accounts in the company’s SIMPLE IRA plan. She argued that this proved she was fired for exercising a protected right under ERISA.

The defendants argued that Simons was fired for insulting Bagot during a conversation after he received the letter, and for productivity issues. According to the court decision, Bagot asked Simons why she left a letter instead of confronting him directly about the contributions and she replied that she wanted everything to be in writing because she did not trust him.

In the case of Rudolph v. U.S. Bank National Association , the court decided that Frederick Rudolph did not prove a “causal connection between the likelihood of future benefits and his termination.”

After a series of incidents involving intimidating behavior by Rudolph, according to the court decision, U.S. Bank decided to terminate his employment. Rudolph’s superiors had received complaints about loud, intimidating phone conversations with coworkers, and, prior to his termination, he had sent an email to supervisors explaining that he almost became violent with a coworker who had grabbed him as he was trying to leave the office.

Rudolph claims that he was retaliated against, in part, because he would have accrued “health care credits” upon turning age 55 six months after his termination. Aside from no evidence showing that this was connected to his termination, the court said there was no evidence to rebut U.S. Bank’s claim that the credits were not tied to age 55. The court granted summary judgment to the bank on Rudolph’s ERISA claim.