• In Central States, Southeast and Southwest Areas Pension Fund v. Auffenberg Ford, Inc., --- F.3d ---, 2011 WL 832937 (7th Cir. Mar. 11, 2011), the court held that an oral understanding, even if later committed to writing, cannot alter an employer’s written agreement to make contribution payments to a multiemployer fund. The defendant-employer participated in the fund from 1980 to 1997, incurring withdrawal liability of $50,000 in 1997, which was fully paid. In 2001, the defendant-employer rejoined the fund so that several longtime employees could qualify for a larger benefit, pursuant to an oral agreement that there would be no withdrawal liability for the defendant-employer for five years. The terms of the governing collective bargaining agreement and participation agreement, however, did not grant the employer-defendant five years of protection from withdrawal liability. In 2006, the plaintiff-trustee filed suit to collect delinquent contributions after the defendant-employer withdrew. The Seventh Circuit affirmed that ERISA benefit plans must be established and maintained pursuant to written agreements, and thus the oral agreement to avoid withdrawal liability for five years did not trump the written terms of the plan.
  • In Giordano v. Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc., No. 08 Civ. 0391, 2011 WL 839507 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 7, 2011), the plaintiff sought to enforce an oral agreement with his supervisor that purportedly promised plaintiff greater pension benefits than provided under the controlling written plan. The district court denied defendants’ motion for summary judgment on plaintiff’s estoppel claim, holding that plaintiff was entitled to trial regarding the existence and terms of the agreement and whether “extraordinary circumstances” entitled him to benefits based on an estoppel theory. The court dismissed plaintiff’s breach of fiduciary duty claim because relief could be achieved pursuant to a claim for benefits, and held ERISA preempted his breach of contract claim.