ERISA-Sixth Circuit Holds That Plaintiff Prevails On His ERISA Claims Which Restore His Original Employment Date

In Deschamps v. Bridgestone Americas, Inc. Salaried Employees Retirement Plan, No. 15-6112 (6th Cir. 2016) (Unpublished), the following occurred. After working for ten years at a Bridgestone plant in Canada, Andre Deschamps (“Deschamps”) transferred to a Bridgestone facility in the United States. Prior to accepting this position he expressed concern about losing pension credit for his ten years of employment in Canada. But upon receiving assurances from members of Bridgestone’s management team that he would keep his ten years of pension credit, Deschamps accepted the position. For over a decade, Deschamps received various written materials confirming that his first date of service for pension purposes would be August 8, 1983. He even turned down employment opportunities from a competitor at a higher salary because of the purportedly higher pension benefits he would receive at Bridgestone.

However, in 2010, Deschamps discovered that Bridgestone had changed his first service date to August 1, 1993, the date he began working at the American plant. After failed attempts to appeal this change through Bridgestone’s internal procedures, Deschamps brought a suit against Bridgestone to restore August 8, 1983 as his first service date for pension purposes, alleging claims of equitable estoppel, breach of fiduciary duty, and an anti-cutback violation of ERISA.  The district court granted summary judgment for Deschamps on these three claims.

Upon review, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals (the “Court”) affirmed the district court’s grant of summary judgement in Deschamps’s favor on his equitable estoppel, breach of fiduciary duty, and anti-cutback claims, and remanded the case for further proceedings as may be appropriate. In particular, the Court concluded that the text of the Bridgestone plan (the Plan”) is at worst ambiguous, but at best, favors Deschamps’s argument that he was a covered employee in 1983 under the classification of “supervisor.” It is not untenable that Deschamps, in his capacity as a maintenance manager, was a supervisor under the language of the Plan. Further, it is undisputed that as a result of the change in the interpretation of this provision that excluded foreign employees from being classified as covered employees, Deschamps’s benefits were decreased. Therefore, Deschamps has established an anti-cutback violation and the district court did not err in granting summary judgment in his favor on this claim.

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