The United States Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a manufacturing company in an employee retirement benefits dispute. Approximately 500 individuals who had worked at M&G Polymers USA in Apple Grove, West Virginia, initiated claims against the company in 2006 after the polyester plant required them to pay part of their health care expenses.
The plaintiffs received backing in their claims from the United Steelworkers union. Their lawsuit alleged that they were guaranteed health care benefits by virtue of their employee collective bargaining agreement, which the employees claim did not require them to contribute to the costs of the benefits.
Ruling Overturned 2 Lower Court Decisions
A lower court, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Ohio, previously sided with the ex-employees, and thereby ordered the company to reinstate its employees' original benefits. Later, in August 2013, the 6th Circuit re-affirmed this decision. However, in its unanimous vote of nine to zero on Monday, the Supreme Court overturned these prior decisions, ruling in favor of the employer.
During the most recent Supreme Court proceedings, M&G Polymers USA asked the court to review its point that the contract failed to specify the duration of benefits. In his ruling in favor of the defendant, Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas stated that the lower court had not analyzed the situation correctly and its ruling was incorrect. His decision stated that if a contract does not specify the length of retirement benefits, one cannot conclude that the benefits will be lifelong.
Have a Question About Benefits? Consult with a Lawyer
Employees who have questions about the retirement benefits they are set to receive with their current employer may want to discuss their questions with a qualified employment law attorney. It is certainly preferred to have a clear picture of what to expect during retirement beforehand, as opposed to waiting until after one has worked decades in a job. While some questions of the law may be up for debate -- as this one was -- at least these gray areas in a contract can be identified before an employee ultimately agrees to the terms.
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