Judge Hamilton Issues Dissent in ERISA Benefits Case

Judge David Hamilton of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued a thoughtful dissent to a majority opinion of the Court in Sullivan v. Cuna Mutual Insurance Society. The majority found that an employer could unilaterally change the terms of an ERISA Plan and eliminate contributions to retiree health care despite an ongoing promise to its workers that it would credit their unused sick days toward their health care costs in retirement. 

Judge Hamilton expressed frustration with the state of the Seventh Circuit's jurisprudence in the area of retiree health benefits.  His concerns mirrored those of many lawyers who represent retirees in benefit cases. His dissent concludes:

"Unless and until either the Supreme Court or Congress acts, the lesson for other employees from this case and the other cases of broken promises to retirees is clear: an employer's reservation of rights usually means that its promises are written in disappearing ink. Employees should give no weight to such promises in deciding whether to stick with their jobs (or whether to call in sick, in this case). They should seek either cash, a good union contract, or vested pension benefits instead of illusory promises."