Employer Was Not Off Base in Disability Cutoff

August 11, 2008 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A federal appellate court has cleared an employer of wrongdoing in the firing of an employee who returned to work while receiving disability benefits.

The 1 st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision that found Parametric Technology Corp. (PTC) did not run afoul of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) by carrying out the termination while Alexei Kouvchinov was receiving short-term disability benefits. Circuit Judge Bruce M. Seyla found there was no evidence of discriminatory intent by PTC.

According to the ruling, Kouvchinov worked as a software engineer for PTC from 1994 until September 2001 when he was told he would be laid off. A week before the layoff effective date, Kouvchinov filed a claim for short-term disability benefits for depression.

Kouvchinov returned to work as a contract employee and, shortly after that, his benefits were canceled when a PTC official accused him of both working and accepting disability payments. He later sued over charges the employer had violated ERISA’s ban on interfering with valid employee benefits.

Seyla said the employer’s questioning of Kouvchinov’s situation – when he was working and accepting disability – was an understandable response.   “ERISA does not impose upon an employer a duty to buy a pig in a poke, and caution is a far cry from discriminatory animus,” Seyla wrote.

The case is Kouvchinov v. Parametric Technology Corp., 1st Cir., No. 07-2395, 8/8/08.