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THOMSON v. SAATCHI & SAATCHI HOLDINGS

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE WESTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK


March 31, 1997

RICHARD D. THOMSON, Plaintiff,
v.
SAATCHI & SAATCHI HOLDINGS (USA), INC., SAATCHI ADVERTISING, INC., RUMRILL-HOYT, INC., SAATCHI & SAATCHI CASH BALANCE, RUMRILL-HOYT SUPPLEMENTAL PLAN, RICHARD O'BRIEN, ROBERT KENNEDY, Defendants.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: LARIMER

DECISION AND ORDER

 Plaintiff, Richard D. Thomson, commenced this action pursuant to the Age Discrimination in Employment Act ("ADEA"), 29 U.S.C. § 621 et seq., and the Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq. Plaintiff, a former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer ("CEO") of defendant Rumrill-Hoyt, Inc. ("Rumrill"), alleges that defendants terminated his employment on account of his age, and that they wrongly denied him certain pension benefits. Plaintiff also asserts a cause of action under the New York Human Rights Law ("HRL"), N.Y. Exec. L. § 296 et seq., as well as common law claims for breach of contract. Plaintiff seeks declaratory and injunctive relief, as well as money damages.

 Defendants have moved for summary judgment on all of plaintiff's claims. Plaintiff has moved for summary judgment on Claim I of the complaint, which alleges a violation of § 404 of ERISA, 29 U.S.C. § 1104.

 FACTUAL BACKGROUND

 Plaintiff alleges that in 1981, after being laid off from an executive position with an advertising agency, he began looking for new employment. Around the beginning of 1982, he was contacted by someone from Rumrill, which at the time was seeking to recruit a Director of Client Services and Business Development. Rumrill is an advertising agency headquartered in Rochester, New York. In 1982, Rumrill was a wholly-owned subsidiary of Compton Communications, Inc. ("Compton").

 Thomson and Rumrill negotiated about Thomson's possible employment for some time. Among the subjects that they discussed was the pension benefits Thomson would receive. On March 16, 1982, Joseph Valeric, who was then Rumrill's Executive Vice President and General Manager, sent Thomson two letters. The first offered Thomson the position of Senior Vice President and Director of Client Services and Business Development. The second letter described the compensation package being offered to Thomson. Among other things, the second letter stated the following:

 

Compton Pension Plan :

 

* Employees who meet the requirements for years of service and age are eligible for pensions based on the average of their salaries paid for five consecutive years of employment prior to retirement. Normal retirement benefits, when combined with Social Security, are equal to approximately half of that average salary. The company pays the entire cost of the benefits you will receive from the Pension Plan.

 Thomson Affidavit Ex. 2.

 In fact, however, the Compton Pension Plan nowhere provided that employees' combined retirement and Social Security benefits would equal half of their average salary. It appears that Valeric may have based this statement on a similar statement in a preexisting recruitment brochure; see Thomson Affidavit Ex. 4. Defendants contend that the statement in the brochure was a "garbled version" of a benefit that had been applied to certain employees employed on December 31, 1975. In any event, it is clear that under the terms of the Compton Pension Plan, Thomson was not entitled to benefits at that high a level, and that Valeric's statement to the contrary was incorrect.

 On March 18, 1982, plaintiff sent Valeric a responding letter. Thomson stated that while the compensation package was "attractive," there were "some areas of both major and minor concern." Thomson Deposition Ex. 11. The "major concerns" related principally to Thomson's salary. Among the "minor concerns," Thomson stated: "Under the pension provision is a statement about 'employees who meet requirements'. What are the requirements that have to be met?" Id. This was the only statement in the letter relating to pension benefits.

 On March 26, 1982, Valeric sent Thomson a response. He stated that Rumrill had decided to offer Thomson "an increased compensation package," which included a signing bonus and a higher base salary. Thomson Deposition Ex. 12. Valeric stated that Rumrill was offering "a pension plan that can be a major building block in your long-range thinking," but he did not repeat his prior statement that Thomson's pension plus Social Security would total about half of Thomson's salary. An attachment to the letter, however, provided a breakdown of the compensation package. Under the heading "Pension Plan," the document stated the following: Annual Annual Personal Savings Annuity Payable Annuity Deferred Required to Immediately to Age 60 Purchase Annuity * Age 50 - 3,851 55 10,428 15,404 60 23,106 23,106 $ 7,027 * The amount of annual savings needed to purchase annuity, assuming 10% interest, 50% tax rate, salary on Page 1 [$ 83,000] and purchase of annuity at age 60. $ 7,027 Annual Payment Required x 2 Tax Effect = $ 14,545 Salary Equivalent $ 14,550

19970331

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