News, Commercial Litigation

Court Invalidates Pension Plan Amendment That Cut Benefits of Former Bakery Workers

On June 7, 2012, the Honorable Vincent L. Briccetti of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York issued an opinion in In re Bakery & Confectionery Union & Industry International Pension Fund Pension Plan, granting Seeger Weiss LLP’s motion for partial judgment on the pleadings and denied the Defendants’ cross-motion for the same relief.

At issue in the case is the legality of a pension plan amendment that became effective July 1, 2010 and which affects tens of thousands of present and former employees of unionized bakeries. The amendment eliminated the availability of “Golden 80” and “Golden 90” early retirement pension benefits for those plan participants who are no longer in covered employment. Those benefits provided a full pension to those workers whose combined age and years of service reached 80 or 90, respectively.

On behalf of the plaintiffs and a proposed nationwide class, attorneys from Seeger Weiss argued that the 2010 amendment eliminating Golden 80 and 90 pensions to former workers who were eligible for such benefits violated the prohibition in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) against cutbacks of vested and accrued benefits. Even though ERISA specifically protects early retirement benefits, the Defendants argued that the amendment was lawful, principally on the basis of legislative history surrounding a 1984 amendment to the statute. Judge Briccetti, however, agreed with the plaintiffs, and held that the amendment violates ERISA’s so-called “anti-cutback” provision.

In the Bakery and Confectionery Union and Industry International Pension Fund Pension Plan litigation, Seeger Weiss LLP was appointed Interim Co-Lead Counsel in July 2011 on behalf of 25 plaintiffs in two consolidated cases who were formerly employed in unionized bakery positions. The litigation is led by Seeger Weiss partners Christopher A. Seeger and Diogenes P. Kekatos.

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