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Spitzler v. New York Post Corp.

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS, SECOND CIRCUIT


decided: April 9, 1980.

ROBERT SPITZLER, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
NEW YORK POST CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLEE

Appeal from a judgment of the District Court for the Southern District of New York (Charles L. Brieant, Judge), dismissing employee's claims that computation of severance pay benefit violated provisions of the Employee Retirement Income security Act of 1974 (ERISA). Affirmed.

Before Oakes, Van Graafeiland and Newman, Circuit Judges.

Author: Per Curiam

The issue on this appeal is whether an employer violates the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq. by contracting with its employee for a severance pay benefit calculated by taking a credit for the actuarial value, at the time of discharge, of an employee's vested interest in a pension plan. Robert Spitzler at age 47 was discharged by the New York Post Corporation*fn1 after 17 years of service. The Post's severance pay plan, as revised in 1977, entitled him to $55,000, based on length of service and salary at discharge, less the actuarial value of his vested interest in the Post's pension plan. At the time of Spitzler's discharge, his vested interest in pension benefits payable starting at age 55 was worth $26,112. He therefore received $28,888 as severance pay. Spitzler sued for $26,112, the difference between the sum he had received and the "full" value of his severance pay, i.e., $55,000, alleging that "reducing" his severance pay by the value of his vested pension benefit violated ERISA in two respects. First, he claimed there had been a forfeiture of his vested pension benefit in violation of § 203(a) of ERISA,*fn2 29 U.S.C. § 1053(a). Second, he claimed that his interest in the pension fund had been diverted to the benefit of his employer in violation of § 403(c)(1) of ERISA,*fn3 29 U.S.C. § 1103(c)(1). The District Court for the Southern District of New York (Charles L. Brieant, Judge) rejected both contentions and entered judgment for the defendant.*fn4 Spitzler v. New York Post Corp., 476 F. Supp. 386 (S.D.N.Y.1979). We affirm substantially on Judge Brieant's opinion.

Spitzler's severance pay agreement is entirely contractual, and he does not contend that it creates an ERISA pension plan. When the Post revised its contract with Spitzler to include in the calculation of severance pay an off-set for the actuarial value of his vested pension interest, it did not impair any rights protected by ERISA. Spitzler remains eligible to receive his full pension benefits beginning at age 55. This case is therefore unlike Utility Workers Union v. Consumers Power Co., 453 F. Supp. 447 (E.D.Mich.1978), which held that vested pension benefits could not be reduced by the amount of workmen's compensation benefits. But see Buczynski v. General Motors Corp., 616 F.2d 1238 (3d Cir. 1980) (permitting compensation payments to reduce pension benefits).

ERISA protects the integrity of pension benefits. It does not guarantee that non-pension benefits may not be adjusted in light of either future pension benefits or the present value of such benefits. Whether the adjustment to the severance pay agreement denied Spitzler any enforceable contract rights is not an issue in this litigation. Only Spitzler's ERISA claims have been adjudicated.

Affirmed.


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