The opinion of the court was delivered by: POHORELSKY
POHORELSKY, Magistrate Judge:
This matter has been referred to the undersigned for a report and recommendation regarding defendant's motion to dismiss this action on the ground that this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction. In essence, the defendant contends that the Employment Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), the sole basis of federal jurisdiction, does not apply to the defendant's "bridging pay" policy that is at the core of the lawsuit. For the reasons set forth below, the undersigned reports and recommends that the defendant's "bridging pay" policy is an "employee welfare benefit plan" within the meaning of the applicable sections of ERISA, and that the court accordingly has subject matter jurisdiction to determine this action.
The plaintiff Lu Ann Weiss, has brought this action to obtain severance pay to which she asserts she is entitled as a result of the termination of her employment by the defendant, National Westminster Bank USA ("NatWest" or "the bank"). At the time she was discharged, the plaintiff was an officer of the defendant, and was employed as Assistant Manager of a branch of NatWest located in Suffolk County.
Not all officers who are involuntarily terminated, however, receive bridging pay. According to the bank's Human Resources Policy Guide,
"Employees who are discharged for cause, other than unsatisfactory performance (see Section 4.1), are usually not entitled to any special severance or bridging compensation." Defendant's Exhibit A, Section 9.3 at 3. Although the Guide provides various examples of reason for involuntary termination, including staff reductions, excessive absenteeism, theft, and unsatisfactory performance, it does not define the word "cause" as it is used in the above quoted passage.
Once a determination is made that an employee or officer is to be terminated, a "generalist" from the bank's Human Resources department completes a form which is used by the bank to catalogue various post-termination administrative matters relating to the employee, including eligibility for bridging pay. See Defendant's Exhibit B.
In completing the form, which is done with the assistance of the employee's immediate supervisor, the generalist fills in a code which describes the reason for termination. According to the undisputed testimony of the defendant's witness, Mr. Greco, the process of filling in that code number is done without regard to eligibility for bridging pay. It is simply a function of finding the applicable number from a key, at the bottom of the form, which lists the various codes. Once the code is selected, however, the determination of whether, and for how long, the employee will receive bridging pay follows automatically. If the code number falls within that group of code numbers for which bridging pay is not allowed, the employee does not receive such pay. If the code number falls within that group for which bridging pay is allowed, then the generalist determines how long the pay will be provided by making a simple calculation based on the employee's length of service. The generalist then enters the information regarding the duration of bridging pay on appropriate sections of the termination form, from which the information is in turn entered in the bank's computers. Thereafter, the computerized payroll system issues the bridging pay checks at regular payroll times along with the usual payroll checks until the bridging pay eligibility period expires or the bank receives notice that the employee has obtained employment elsewhere.
ERISA defines the term "employee welfare benefit plan" broadly:
The terms "employee welfare benefit plan" and "welfare plan" mean any plan, fund, or program which was heretofore or is hereafter established or maintained ... for the purpose of providing ... (A) medical, surgical, or hospital care or benefits, or benefits in the event of sickness, accident, disability, death or unemployment, or vacation benefits, apprenticeship or other training programs, or day care centers, scholarship funds, or prepaid legal services, or (B) any benefit described in section 186(c) of this title....
29 U.S.C. § 1002(1). Section 186(c), in turn, describes numerous types of employee benefits including, specifically, severance pay. 29 U.S.C. § 186(c)(6). On its face then, NatWest's policy for providing post-termination payments constitutes severance pay and is therefore an employee welfare benefit plan within the meaning of ERISA.
As an initial matter, the two decisions on which the defendant principally relies, Fort Halifax Packing Co. v. Coyne, 482 U.S. 1, 96 L. Ed. 2d 1, 107 S. Ct. 2211 (1987), and James v. Fleet/Norstar Financial Group, Inc., 992 F.2d 463 (2d Cir. 1993), do not rest solely on the absence of administrative supervision and discretionary analysis in determining that the severance pay policies under review in those cases were not covered by ERISA. In Fort Halifax the Supreme Court addressed a Maine statute that required employers to make a lump sum severance payment to all employees terminated because of a plant closing. The Court determined that the statute did not establish, and did not require the employer to maintain, an employee welfare benefit plan, and therefore was not preempted by ERISA. The Court focused on the word "plan" in making that determination, and, in that context, cited various reasons why a one-time, lump sum payment made on the occurrence of a single event, i.e., plant closing, did not amount to a "plan." The Court concluded, "To do little more than write a check hardly constitutes the operation of a benefit plan. Once this single event is over, the employer has no further responsibility. The theoretical possibility of a one-time obligation in the future simply creates no need for an ongoing administrative program for processing claims and paying benefits." 482 U.S. at 12.
In the Fleet/Norstar case, the Second Circuit confronted an analogous situation where an employer had offered a one-time lump sum severance payment to a group of its employees as an inducement to continue working until the employer had completed a consolidation of operations that would result in the discharge of those employees. Fleet/Norstar, 992 F.2d at 464-65. Relying on Fort Halifax, the court found that such a program did not constitute a "plan," ...