Missouri Federal Court Declines to Decide Whether ERISA Protects Employee From Reprisal For Informal Complaint
A federal court in Missouri was asked to determine whether a former employee proved a viable claim for retaliation under ERISA Section 510 by virtue of being terminated after she sent emails disparaging the company’s owner and protesting certain actions. As applicable here, Section 510 prohibits employers from terminating an employee “because he has given information or has testified or is about to testify in any inquiry or proceeding relating to this chapter.” The district court first recognized that the Eighth Circuit (in which the court sits) has not answered the question of whether Section 510 protects informal complaints by employees – i.e., the former employee’s emails — as an “inquiry or proceeding.” Rather than decide the issue, the court assumed that she had made a prima facie showing, and granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment on the ground that she had been terminated for legitimate nondiscriminatory reasons. The case is Graham v. Hubbs Mach. and Mfg., Inc., No. 4:14-CV-419 (CEJ), 2016 WL 2910209 (E.D. Mo. May 19, 2016).