Like most things in employment law, the devil is in the details, but the answer is likely no. Section 510 of the Employment Retirement Income Security Act [“ERISA”] prohibits employer interference with an employee’s attainment of pension of benefits. That said, for an employee to successfully use the law to argue for financial recovery, she must show that her employer had “specific intent” to interfere with or block her benefit attainment. “Specific intent” can be tricky to prove, because, ordinarily, employers have explanations (some legitimate, some not) for their actions taken against employees.
Here is how the employee successfully proves “specific intent.” First, the employee must show evidence that she: is the kind of employee that ERISA was enacted to cover (ERISA covers only private employers offering retirement benefit plans); that she was rightfully in her position (i.e. that she had the experience, training, skills, and qualifications for the position); and that her work terms were changed under some circumstance giving rise to an inference of pension-benefit discrimination. Next, the employer is given an opportunity to produce evidence that it, instead, changed the employee’s job terms for a legitimate reason. Assuming that the employer produces some evidence of legitimacy, the employee must finally submit evidence: “(1) that the employer's articulated reason for its employment action was a pretext [false]; and (2) that the true reason was to interfere with the plaintiff's receipt of benefit.”
If you have a question regarding discrimination in the work place or your ERISA rights, please contact our office for a free initial consultation or fill out our online contact form.