Employee's Right to Benefits Case Dismissed

July 19, 2005 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A court dismissed the case for a Verizon PA Inc. employee who was terminated on the same day the company announced a benefit plan that would pay him $66,000 and increase his pension benefits.

James Tobler claims his employer purposely fired him on November 19, 2001 to interfere with his right to the benefit, a violation of ERISA.   According to the court opinion, four days earlier Tobler was arrested for purchasing cocaine while in a company vehicle.   When he reported to work, he was told he was terminated due to the drug incident.   That same day, the opinion said, Verizon announced an Enhanced Income Security Plan (EISP) that would increase pension benefits by 5%, pay employees a termination allowance of $2,200 times their years of service up to 30, and pay a relocation/re-education stipend for employees who remained in employment until December 29, 2001 and then retired.

Tobler did not receive notification of the new benefit plan due to his termination on that day, although his union did negotiate his 5% pension increase later, according to the opinion.   He argues that he was not officially terminated until October 17, 2002 when a labor arbitrator upheld Verizon’s decision to fire him, so he was eligible for the plan and should have received notification.   In his opinion, US District Judge Jacob Hart for the US District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, noted that even if that were true, he would not be eligible for benefits since he did not remain in employment until December 29 of that year.

Hart granted Verizon’s motion to dismiss the case saying Tobler did not provide any evidence that the company terminated him with the intent to deny him benefits under the EISP.

The opinion in Tobler v. Verizon PA Inc., E.D. Pa., No. 04-5708, 7/13/05 can be read  here .