Parker v. Cooper Tire & Rubber Company, 12-60503 (5th Cir. Feb. 21, 2014) (unpublished)
In an unpublished decision the Fifth Circuit limited the anti-retaliation provisions of ERISA. ERISA section 510 makes it illegal for an employer to terminate an employee with the specific intent of preventing the employee from obtaining an ERISA benefit.
Here Mr. Parker suffered from end-stage liver failure and required a liver transplant. Cooper Tire fired Mr. Parker for the stated reason that Mr. Parker violated Cooper Tire's unexcused absence policy. Parker sued claiming that Cooper attire fired him to prevent him from obtaining long-term and short-term disability benefits. Parker also alleged that Cooper Tire fired him to avoid paying for his liver transplant.
The Fifth circuit determined that Mr. Parker was disabled from performing his job before Cooper fired him. Nevertheless the Court determined that Mr. Parker's failure to file for long-term disability benefits was fatal to his claim for retaliation.
The Court determined that the short-term disability plan of Cooper Tire was not an ERISA plan so ERISA's ant-retaliation provision offered no protection.
As to the medical plan, the Court determined that once Parker was disabled he was no longer qualified to participate in the medical plan and this lack of ability to participate in the plan made him ineligible for the protections of the ERISA anti-retaliation statute found at 29 USC section 1040.
To have been eligible for the protections, Mr. Parker should have filed for the long-term disability benefits. Of course once he had done so he could not bring a claim based on his termination since he was ineligible to work since he was disabled so he would have no back pay loss.
As to the medical benefits Cooper Tire should have sent Mr. Parker notice of his rights to COBRA continuation coverage so he could have gottn his liver transplant.