Quentin and Marie Smith sued Kroger and a union health insurance plan that serves Kroger employees, including Quentin, in an Arkansas state court in July 2021. The suit makes allegations that include breach of contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”) violations, and it was removed to federal court in November. As December began, Kroger moved to dismiss the case, arguing that Smith should direct claims arising from the alleged denials of health care benefits toward

Kroger claims that Quentin Smith cannot sue over Kroger’s alleged refusal to abide by the terms of a settlement with the Smith’s union until he’s filed a grievance. Kroger and United Food and Commercial Workers Local 2008 became involved in a dispute over Smith’s employment status based on different interpretations of the settlement terms. Kroger said that the parties could resolve this disagreement during the grievance process.

Quentin Smith failed to exhaust his contractual grievance procedures before filing suit as required by the Labor-Management Relations Act,” the company said in its motion to dismiss. “Next, Kroger is not the proper defendant for plaintiffs’ ERISA claims and intentional infliction of emotional distress claims.”

Kroger fired Marie in 2016. The company allegedly fired her while on federal Family and Medical Leave Act leave. After firing her, the health plan tried to recoup almost $9,000 in expenses from Marie, the suit claims. Quentin was removed from his status as a full-time clerk in 2016 and successfully contested the demotion with Kroger, agreeing through a settlement with Local 2008 to give him $1,600 in back pay and restore him to his old position. However, the Smiths’ lawsuit claims that Kroger never restored Quentin to full-time status.

The suit further alleges that Quentin and Marie married in 2016 and Quentin added Marie to his Kroger health insurance plan. The health plan allegedly started denying Quentin’s requests for benefits in 2018.

The suit claims that Quentin could not afford to pay for care himself because the health plan was pressuring the couple with demands to repay Marie’s medical debt. Then, Marie sued Kroger and settled claims about the medical debt and her termination. The lawsuit claims that the settlement reinstated her health insurance for a period when Kroger had previously said that she was ineligible.

Despite this settlement, Quentin’s health care claims were still repeatedly denied, the suit claims. The suit calls Kroger and the plan’s alleged actions “utterly unconscionable and intolerable in a civilized community” and seeks $75,000 in damages.