US District Judge David Doty of the US District Court for the District of Minnesota rebuffed plaintiff Rodney Fischer’s contention that his employer had a practice of forcing employees over the age of 40 to retire early, BNA reported.
Fischer had asserted that the practice demonstrated that the employer had fired him at the age of 55 to prevent him from obtaining full pension benefits. Fischer complained that the early departure caused him to receive only 70% of the benefits he would have received if he had stayed with the employer until reaching normal retirement age.
“The alleged targeting of employees over the age of forty may support an age discrimination claim but does not indicate interference with pension benefits,” Doty said, adding that “early retirement trends alone do not even remotely indicate that an adverse employment action was motivated by a specific intent on the part of the employer to interfere with pension benefits.”
Fischer began his employment with Andersen Corp. in 1971 and worked as an engineer at Andersen’s door production facility. Under Andersen’s pension plan, employees would receive full pension benefits at the age of 65, but depending on years of service an employee could receive full pension benefits by age 62. The plan also included an early retirement option that allowed employees to retire after reaching age 55, with reduced pension benefits.
Fischer retired from Andersen in December 2003 after taking short-term disability leave. After retiring, Fischer filed a charge of age discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. In addition, Fischer filed a lawsuit against Andersen alleging it interfered with his right to full pension benefits in violation of Section 510 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).
According to Doty, Fischer failed to show an adverse employment action by Andersen in that he voluntarily retired. The court also said that even if Fischer could show an adverse employment action, he failed to demonstrate that such an action was motivated by Andersen’s desire to interfere with his right to pension benefits.
The case is Fischer v. Andersen Corp., D. Minn., No. 05-120 (DSD/SRN), 4/6/06.