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COMMUNICATION WORKERS OF AMERICA v. NYNEX CORP.

June 4, 2002

COMMUNICATION WORKERS OF AMERICA, AFL-CIO AND SUSAN M. ARCHURI, PATRICK RAWLINS, SUSAN MANCHESTER, MICHELENE BERNARDON, PATRICIA SHANLEY, DIANE MANFREDI, AND SANDRA PILECKAS, ON BEHALF OF THEMSELVES AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFFS,
V.
NYNEX CORPORATION, NEW YORK TELEPHONE COMPANY, EMPIRE CITY SUBWAY COMPANY (LIMITED), THE SICKNESS AND ACCIDENT DISABILITY BENEFIT PLAN OF NEW YORK TELEPHONE AND EMPIRE CITY SUBWAY COMPANY (LIMITED), THE NYNEX SICKNESS AND ACCIDENT DISABILITY BENEFIT PLAN, THE EMPLOYEES' BENEFIT COMMITTEE OF NEW YORK TELEPHONE COMPANY AND EMPIRE CITY SUBWAY COMPANY (LIMITED), THE EMPLOYEES' BENEFIT REVIEW COMMITTEE OF NEW YORK TELEPHONE COMPANY AND EMPIRE CITY SUBWAY COMPANY (LIMITED), DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Louis L. Stanton, United States District Judge

Opinion and Order

Both sides move for summary (or partial summary) judgment on the claim for breach of collective bargaining agreements and for payment of benefits under the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B). Defendants also move for summary judgment on the remaining counts of the complaint. The complaint charges defendants with breach of collective bargaining agreements ("CBAs") in violation of the Labor-Management Relations Act, 29 U.S.C. § 185, and asserts other claims under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq.

Plaintiffs claim defendants changed their interpretation and application of employee benefits plans, to plaintiffs' detriment, in May 1990 or June 1992. As a result, plaintiffs contend, their injuries warranting accident disability benefits were initially misclassified, or wrongfully reclassified, to receive less generous sickness disability benefits, because their injuries were not suffered in direct connection with the performance of their duties. This change, they argue, effectively amended the benefits plans without notice to the Communications Workers of America, in breach of collective bargaining agreements and defendants' fiduciary duties under ERISA.

1.

The collective bargaining agreements between the parties incorporate by reference the Sickness and Accident Disability Benefit Plan (the "Plan").

The language in the Plan defining accident disability benefits has remained unchanged since 1971:

1. Participation — All employees shall be participants in the Accident Disability Benefit Plan and qualified to receive payments under the Plan on account of physical disability work by reason of accidental injury (not including the accidental injuries specified in Paragraph 12 of Section 6) arising out of and in the course of employment by the Company or a Former Affiliate or Associated or Allied Company from which the employee was reassigned as of January 1, 1984. . . .
5. Relationship of Injury to Employment — Accidental injuries shall be considered as arising out of and in the course of employment only where the injury has resulted solely from accident during and in direct connection with the performance of duties to which the employee is assigned in the service of the Company, or was assigned by the Former Affiliate or Associated or Allied Company from which the employee was reassigned as of January 1, 1984, or which he is directed to perform by proper authority, or in voluntarily protecting the Company's property or interests. . . .

Sickness and Accident Disability Benefit Plan, Sec 5., ¶¶ 1, 5. (Waldron Aff., Ex. 1).

The definition of "Sickness Disability Benefits" is given at section 4, paragraph one of the Plan:

For the purposes of the Plan, sickness shall include injury other than accidental injury arising out of and in the course of employment by the Company or by the Former Affiliate or Associated or Allied Company from which an employee was reassigned on January 1, 1984.

The Plan is administered in accordance with a Summary Plan Description ("SPD"), a document required by ERISA and designed to simplify and explain the terms of the plan. See 29 U.S.C. § 1022; 29 C.F.R. § 2520.102-2(a). The SPD provides:

SICKNESS DISABILITY BENEFITS

This part of the plan provides benefits when your illness or "off-duty accident" requires mote time off than the Incidental Absence policy covers. (An off-duty accident is an ...

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