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BJORK v. EASTMAN KODAK CO.

September 25, 2001

RANDALL
v.
BJORK, PLAINTIFF, V. EASTMAN KODAK COMPANY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: David G. Larimer, Cheif United States District Judge.

  DECISION AND ORDER

Background

In this action, plaintiff Randall Bjork ("Bjork") claims that Eastman Kodak Company ("Kodak") wrongfully denied him termination allowance benefits, and that the denial of such benefits by defendant Pamela Cromp, in her capacity as the plan administrator for defendant Kodak Termination Allowance Plan ("TAP" or "the Plan"), was arbitrary and capricious.*fn1 His suit for benefits falls within the purview of section 502(a)(1)(B) of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), which allows a private plaintiff to sue "to recover benefits due him under the terms of his plan, to enforce his rights under the terms of the plan, or to clarify his rights to future benefits under the terms of the plan." 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B).

Both plaintiff and defendants now move, under FED. R. CIV. P. 56, for summary judgment. For the reasons that follow, defendants' motion is granted, plaintiff's motion is denied, and plaintiff's complaint is dismissed with prejudice.

Factual Background

Plaintiff's Employment

Kodak hired Bjork in 1985. During the course of his employment, Bjork held several sales and marketing positions. In December 1997, Bjork's position as a regional merchandising director was eliminated in a corporate restructuring. That same month, Kodak offered Bjork, and Bjork accepted, the position of key account manager. According to defendants, the new position did not require a different skill set than that required of the regional merchandising director position, or any special training. Bjork began in that position on January 1, 1998.

Almost as soon as Bjork assumed his new duties, there were problems with his performance. The evidence establishes that plaintiff's supervisor, Brad Hunsaker ("Hunsaker"), was displeased with Bjork's performance. For example, Hunsaker noted that Bjork did not understand the business, was consistently inaccurate in his forecasting, displayed poor account management skills, and lacked initiative in developing solutions to improve account relationships. Hunsaker placed Bjork on a 60 day performance improvement plan. Although Bjork attempted to comply with Hunsaker's requests, Bjork failed to achieve the results Hunsaker expected. In February 1999, Bjork was placed on a final warning and informed that unless he met specific performance criteria within the next month, his employment would be terminated. At about the same time, Bjork presented Hunsaker with a letter offering his resignation in exchange for certain termination benefits. In that letter, Bjork conceded that "it appears the good-faith efforts I have been making are not meeting with your expectations." Kodak rejected Bjork's offer, and terminated him in March 1999 because of his continued inability to improve his job performance.

The Plan

The Plan is an employee welfare benefit plan as defined in 29 U.S.C. § 1002(1) of ERISA. It "is designed to provide benefits to eligible employees whose employment is terminated as a result of a layoff, special separation program or divestiture." The Plan, Dkt. #8, Ex. 26, Art. 1. The Plan provides for three types of benefits: a termination allowance benefit, a retraining allowance, and outplacement services. Only the termination allowance benefit is at issue in this case.*fn2

To qualify for the termination allowance benefit under the Plan, a person must: (1) be employed in the United States as a regular full-time or part-time employee; (2) be terminated due to layoff, special separation, or divestiture; (3) work until a termination date acceptable to Kodak; (4) execute an employees' agreement acceptable to the senior vice president and director of human resources; and (5) execute a waiver, release and covenant not to sue acceptable to the senior vice president and director of human resources. Id., Art. 3.01. Only terminations due to layoff are at issue here. A "layoff" under the Plan can occur in one of three ways: a decrease in the workforce, a relocation, or the inability to meet job requirements. Id., Art. 4.01.

Because there was no decrease in the workforce or relocation with respect to the Bjork's last position, only the inability to meet job requirements is implicated here. Although plaintiff questions Cromp for not analyzing his claim as falling under a decrease in workforce, see Dkt. #18, pp. 5-6, he has offered no evidence of any decrease in workforce with respect to his position. In fact, the record establishes that plaintiff was terminated for cause.

Under the terms of the Plan:

Layoff results when an Employee makes a good-faith effort but is unable to perform overall job requirements satisfactorily, provided the Employee satisfies each of the following criteria:
(1) has been employed by the Company for one year or more; and
(2) has experienced a "significant job change." For this purpose, a significant job change is a new job which:
— results in a change in job family code (specified in ...

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