Employer-sponsored pension plans in New Jersey and around the country must meet standards laid down by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. When these standards are not met, employees may file lawsuits against their employers in federal court. One such lawsuit was filed in California on Oct. 12 by six workers against the telecommunications giant AT&T.
Breach of fiduciary duty
In their ERISA lawsuit, the workers claim that the way AT&T calculates benefits for workers who chose to retire before reaching the age of 65 violates the provisions of the landmark 1974 law. Under ERISA, benefits paid to workers who opt for early retirement must be actuarially equivalent to the benefits paid to workers who do not. The plaintiffs say that the way AT&T’s pension plan pays early retirement benefits breaches their fiduciary duty and ERISA’s anti-forfeiture and actuarial equivalence rules. They also claim that the factors AT&T uses to calculate early retirement benefits do not meet ERISA requirements.
Some of the plaintiffs say that they decided against taking early retirement and avoided certain benefits because the amount they would have been paid would have been far lower than ERISA requires. The remedies the lawsuit seeks include declaratory relief, an injunction, restitution and an award to cover legal fees and other costs.
This case reveals how complex these claims can be. Attorneys with experience in this area may advocate for workers who have not received the retirement or disability benefits they are entitled to under the law. Attorneys could represent workers during settlement discussions, help them to gather medical records and other documents to support their claims, provide them with guidance about the ERISA claims process and argue on their behalf during appeals hearings if their claims are denied.