Firing for Poor Performance Does Not Interfere With ERISA Rights

October 23, 2003 ( - Terminating an employee for poor performance does not illegally interfere with the employee's Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) rights.

>The employee alleged his company fired him to circumvent paying for treatment related to the central nervous system disorder Lupus.   However, US District Judge William Hibbler of the US District Court for the Northern District of Illinois found no evidence that the employer had the “specific intent” to interfere with his right to benefits in violation of Section 510 of ERISA.

>Rather, Hibbler found the “only reasonable conclusion …is that [the employee’s] loss of benefits was a mere consequence of his dismissal rather than the result of [the employer’s] specific intent to interfere with his ERISA rights.”

Case History

>In December 1997 Joseph Enright, who suffers from Lupus, was offered a position at Accurate Transmissions Inc. by Richard Kuempal, the president of Accurate and a childhood friend of Enright.   Enright accepted the position and began work in January 1998 as manager of the company’s warranty division.   Kuempal made the job offer fully aware of Enright’s medical condition.  

>From the start, Kuempal said Enright’s performance was “frequently unacceptable” due mostly to his failure to return customer phone calls in a timely fashion, a key component to the position.   During Enright’s first two performance reviews, in February and August 1998, Kuempal discussed his poor performance with him, even giving written notices to Enright requesting he return customer calls in a more timely fashion.  

>Enright continued to have trouble in his position, culminating in a warning letter in January 1999 giving him 30 days to improve his performance.   The company says his performance improved after the warning and that Enright received a generally positive review in February 1999.

>Enright continued his job without incident until September 1999, when he was admitted to the local hospital for observation after he experience chest pains and shortness of breath.   He was released a few days later and within an hour of his return to the office, he was fired.   Accurate explained the dismissal was due to poor job performance. However Enright said the termination was under the pretense that the stress of Enright’s job was not good for his medical condition.

The case is Enright v. Accurate Transmissions Inc. , Northern District of Illinois, Number 01 C 1686.