Lucent Wins Benefits Interference Case

October 17, 2005 ( - The US District Court for the District of New Jersey ruled that Lucent Technologies, Inc. did not interfere with a former employee's right to early retirement benefits as the employee was classified as part of a reduction in force.

BNA reports that Linda Fletcher was selected to be part of a reduction in force at Lucent in April of 2001. Fletcher’s job was to be eliminated and she had 60 days to find another position at Lucent or be fired. According to the court document, Lucent compared Fletcher against nine other employees, all of whom were male and most were older, using neutral performance ratings. Lucent kept the five employees with the highest scores, all of whom were male and four were older than Fletcher.

The company, after an attempted merger with another company failed, introduced a voluntary retirement program offered between June and July 2001 that gave eligible employees an additional five years of age and five years of service. Employees already classified as reduction in force were not eligible for the early retirement plan.

In June 2001 Fletcher was fired. She filed a lawsuit alleging age and gender discrimination and unlawful interference of benefits.

The court noted that proof of incidental loss of benefits resulting from termination did not constitute a violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) violation. Fletcher argued that Lucent was having financial problems before the merger discussions failed and must have developed the early retirement plan before May 2001. She claimed that Lucent placed her on reduction in force status to make her ineligible for benefits. The court rejected her arguments and found that Fletcher did not provide any evidence that Lucent acted with the intent to violate ERISA.

Granting summary judgment to Lucent, the court said the company fired Fletcher as part of a reduction in force that was implemented in response to financial difficulties, therefore Lucent provided a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for Fletcher’s being fired. Lucent said its factors in analyzing which employees to fire had nothing to do with age or gender and that Fletcher never challenged the accuracy of her score. According to the court, Fletcher did not provide any evidence that Lucent’s reason was a pretext for age or gender discrimination.

The case is Fletcher v. Lucent Technologies Inc., D.N.J., No. 02-3941 (JAG), unpublished 9/27/05.