Employer Ordered to Enroll Worker in LTD Plan

January 25, 2007 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A federal judge in Utah has ordered that a Utah-based Coca-Cola bottler retroactively enroll an employee in its long-term disability (LTD) plan since it had not detected that the worker had not properly enrolled on his own.

U.S. District Judge Tena Campbell of the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah ruled that Swire Coca-Cola, USA was a fiduciary and that it owed a duty to plaintiff Scott Atwood to make sure he had properly filled out the necessary paperwork to get into the LTD program. The company had a duty to competently administer the plan and maintain plan records, Campbell said.

“Swire’s handling of Mr. Atwood’s request for benefits was not competent or prudent. For this reason, the court finds that Swire breached its fiduciary duty to Mr. Atwood,” Campbell said. The court continued: “Swire accepted the obligation to properly administer the Plan. As Plan Administrator, Swire established the procedures for an employee to select coverage and for an employee to be enrolled in a benefit plan. Swire hired a professional Benefits Administrator and other staff to carry out such duties. And Mr. Atwood properly relied on Swire’s administrative capacity and expertise.”

Campbell said that if it is ultimately determined that Atwood is disabled and owed benefits under the plan, it would be between Swire and the claims administrator “to determine what course of action to take.”

According to the court, Atwood, a fleet mechanic, injured his wrist in May 2001 and met with Swire’s benefits administrator to discuss the LTD benefits. At this meeting, the benefits administrator noticed that Atwood’s personnel file was missing two required enrollment cards and permitted him to fill out the cards at that time.

However, two years later, Atwood filed a claim for benefits with the plan’s claims administrator who denied the request on the grounds that he had not enrolled in the plan within the plan’s deadlines for enrollment.

Atwood sued Swire over the allegations of an Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) fiduciary breach, and asked for a court order to enroll him.

The case is Atwood v. Swire Coca-Cola USA,D. Utah, No. 2:03-cv-1014 TC, 1/19/07.