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John, Employment Lawyer
Category: Employment Law
Satisfied Customers: 4523
Experience:  Exclusively practice labor and employment law.
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Union granted me and others past service when we voted them

Customer Question

Union granted me and others past service when we voted them in (2001). I was to be credited with 18.5 years of past service. I received my first pension estimate after I was vested in 2005. It had my years in the union and grandfathered in my past years. A couple months later. I get another estimate saying after review my past years will not be given credit. It says all over the letter that this is an estimate. Nothing changed with my seniority at work so I thought it was a mix up. I let it go. Now it's 2015. I want to retire. The Union is claiming ERISA statute of limitations for me suing them now to get my full pension including grandfathered years. How can this be? I never even officially put in for retirement & pension yet.
Submitted: 12 months ago.
Category: Employment Law
Expert:  John replied 12 months ago.

First I think what they are doing to you here is ridiculous and cowardly by the union. This is also an all too common scenario - union's often promise things to get membership...unfortunately they probably didn't clear this with the pension plan board. So let me tell you first that you may have a case of fraud against the union notwithstanding any of the following and you shouldn't let this matter local counsel for this and pursue a lawsuit if you must. The other thing you need to understand is that the union and the union plan are different entities and federal law holds that the union cannot bind its plan to do something....although in all reality to the average person the entities are essentially acting as one.

Second, their claim of ERISA SOL expiring isn't rock solid because you had conflicting information - you were told it was vested, then told it wasn't - whether that should have clued you in that you had a claim is questionable and an issue of fact for a trial in my opinion. Further, in some jurisdictions you must in fact have filed for benefits for a claim to arise. Under the federal discovery rule, "a plaintiff's cause of action accrues when he discovers, or with due diligence should have discovered, the injury that is the basis of the litigation." Guilbert, 480 F.3d at 149 (citing Union Pacific Railroad Co. v. Beckham, 138 F.3d 325, 330 (8th Cir. 1998)). In the ERISA context, the discovery rule has been construed to mean that a benefit claim accrues upon "a clear repudiation by the plan that is known, or should be known, to the plaintiff — regardless of whether the plaintiff has filed a formal application for benefits." Carey, 201 F.3d at 46-47; see, e.g., Miller v. Fortis Benefits Insurance Co., 475 F.3d 516, 520-21 (3d Cir. 2007); but see Hoover v. Bank of America Corp., 286 F. Supp. 2d 1326, 1333 n.12 (M.D. Fla. 2003) (requiring a formal application for benefits to be denied to trigger the statute of limitations and recognizing the tension between the standard adopted in this circuit and others), aff'd without opinion, Hoover v. Bank of America Corp., 127 Fed. Appx. 470 (11th Cir. Jan. 5, 2005).

Expert:  John replied 12 months ago.

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