A major ally was secured in the Association of BellTel Retirees United States Supreme Court legal challenge against Verizon over its jettisoning of 41,000 management retirees out of the federally protected pension plan and the company’s use of $1 billion in pension funds to pay non- related expenses.
The Washington, D.C.-based Pension Rights Center, a national non-profit advocacy organization focused on protecting retirement security, has filed a “friend of the court” or amicus curiae brief, supporting the Association’s litigation against Verizon, which is now being considered for a hearing by the High Court.
The center, an influential voice for retirees for over 40 years, argued that the plaintiffs in the case – Pundt v. Verizon – should have the right to complain about mismanagement of their pension funds and seek civil enforcement against Verizon under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Lower courts have found that plan participants must prove they have already suffered individual financial harm before they have standing to seek action.
“In the context of defined benefit pension plans, this could mean that participants could not seek redress for fiduciary mismanagement until they have been deprived of their benefits,” the Center wrote in its filing, “at which point it would almost certainly be too late…because the statute of limitations would have run out.”
Having the support of the Pension Rights Center adds weight to the case and indicates that the stakes are larger than just the assets of the 41,000 retirees who are a party to the suit.
“Resolution of the issues in this case is enormously important, as it potentially affects the retirement income security of millions of plan participants,” the Center said.
With the pensions of tens of thousands of Verizon retirees, including union members, still directly managed by the pension plan, the outcome of the litigation will have wide-ranging, national effects.
“It is incredibly significant that our case has reached such important legal heights and now sits on the doorstep of the Supreme Court, which has final say on all matters it takes up,” said BellTel President and Executive Director John Brennan. “Very few cases ever make it this far.”
If the highest court in the nation accepts the case and the Association obtains a favorable ruling, it will empower retirees to hold fiduciaries more accountable for their decisions, far beyond what they are now able to do. It is another crucial front in the battle against Verizon’s attempts to limit or completely cut its responsibility to its retirees.
The Association is represented by ERISA law sharpshooter Curtis Kennedy, who has also served as keynote speaker at several annual BellTel member meetings.