No ERISA Whistleblower Protection for Unsolicited Internal Complaints

Not long before she was fired last year, Shirley Edwards complained to her bosses that the company was mishandling its employee benefit plans. The human resources director for A.H. Cornell and Son Inc. accused the family-owned Jamison, Pa., construction company of violating the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA).

She alleged that the company was misrepresenting the cost of group health coverage to some employees in an effort to dissuade them from opting into benefits, and enrolling noncitizens in its ERISA plans by providing false Social Security numbers and other fraudulent information to insurance carriers.

"The federal courts have long ago decided in favor of the uniformity of ERISA administration as the governing policy goal," he explains. "In furtherance of that goal, the federal courts, following the Supreme Court's lead, have given ERISA's civil remedies provisions a narrow construction."

The Department of Labor (DOL) complains, in its amicus curiae brief in support of Edwards' request for a panel rehearing or en banc review, that the 3rd Circuit's "narrow reading" of s. 510 will encourage employers to ignore possible ERISA violations and/or fire employees who make such allegations.

Cristin Schmitz

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