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GREENBLATT v. BUDD CO.

August 5, 1987

Louis T. Greenblatt
v.
The Budd Company and Terry N. Patterson and Lewis M. Miller Appointed by The Budd Company to Administer Certain Employee Pension Plans



The opinion of the court was delivered by: HANNUM

 HANNUM, S.J.

 The defendants, The Budd Company, Terry N. Patterson and Lewis M. Miller, have together filed the present motion for summary judgment on the action commenced in this Court by the plaintiff, Louis T. Greenblatt, who seeks employee pension benefits or other appropriate extracontractual relief due him under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (hereinafter "ERISA"), Pub. L. 93-406, 88 Stat. 832 (codified as amended in scattered sections of Title 26 and 29 of the United States Code), and under Pennsylvania tort law.

 The plaintiff's employment relevant to this litigation began in March, 1956. At that time, he started working for the Gindy Manufacturing Corporation (hereinafter "Gindy"). In May of 1956, Gindy, a manufacturer of truck trailers located in the Philadelphia area, promoted plaintiff to the position of executive vice-president within its organization.

 In 1968, the defendant, The Budd Company (or "Budd"), a privately owned multinational corporation, acquired Gindy. At this time and until 1975, Gindy was operated as a wholly owned subsidiary of The Budd Company. The acquisition of Gindy by The Budd Company, however, had no immediate effect on the plaintiff. In fact, the plaintiff remained in his position at Gindy as an executive vice-president until 1970.

 In 1970, the plaintiff, due to his wife's serious illness, reported to Gene Hinden, Gindy's president at that time, that he "could not devote substantially all of his time to the Gindy Company any more. . . ." At this time, Mr. Hinden granted plaintiff's request to have his title changed to "Assistant to the President," and to assume, presumably, a less time-consuming yet responsible position with the company, pending the outcome of his wife's illness.

 In 1976, some time after the Federal Trade Commission approved The Budd Company's acquisition of Gindy, Budd renamed the Gindy Manufacturing Corporation as the Budd Company Trailer Division (hereinafter "Trailer Division"). As will be described in more detail below, the plaintiff's working relationship with his immediate supervisors at the Trailer Division deteriorated some time after December 27, 1977. In early 1978, the plaintiff was demoted without notice to the position of Sales Representative of National Accounts. In June of 1981, the plaintiff, due to harassment from his superiors at the Trailer Division, was forced to resign.

 From the 1968 Budd acquisition of Gindy until the time of his retirement, the plaintiff has been a beneficiary under the various pension plans maintained by his employer. Following the 1968 acquisition, Gindy, as a subsidiary of The Budd Company, maintained for its salaried management employees, including the plaintiff, a pension plan (hereinafter the "Gindy Pension Plan") that was separate and distinct from the pension plan that The Budd Company maintained for its salaried management employees. The pension plan maintained by The Budd Company for its salaried management employees is called The Budd Company Pension Plan for Executive and Administrative Employees (hereinafter the "Corporate Pension Plan").

 In 1976, when the Budd Company renamed the Gindy Manufacturing Corporation as The Budd Company Trailer Division, the Gindy Pension Plan was fully restated and renamed the Trailer Division Pension Plan for Salaried Employees (hereinafter the "Trailer Division Pension Plan"). The Trailer Division Pension Plan was also separate and distinct from the Corporate Pension Plan.

 Significantly, the pension benefits available to salaried management personnel under the Corporate Pension Plan were at all times material to this litigation (1968-1981) superior to those benefits available to management personnel under the Gindy Pension Plan and to those available to management personnel under the Trailer Division Pension Plan.

 Concerning this disparity in available pension benefits under the two plans, the plaintiff alleges that Budd's chairman of the board, Phil Scott, represented to him shortly after the acquisition, "that now that [top management personnel at Gindy] were part of the Budd family they would be receiving better pension benefits then [sic] they enjoyed at Gindy."

 The plaintiff further alleges that Jim Howarth, the Trailer Division's General Manager, and Bill Graham, the Trailer Division's Manager of Employee Relations, on numerous occasions, represented to plaintiff that the benefits available under the Trailer Division Pension Plan would be made equal to the benefits available under Budd's Corporate Pension Plan.

 Further, the plaintiff relates that during the period of his employment, The Budd Company transferred management personnel from other Budd Divisions into various upper and middle management positions - no more important than his own - at the Trailer Division. Yet, these transferees - Jim Howarth, Bill Graham, Bart Brizee, Jack McBrearty, and Ed McDermott - were permitted, plaintiff avers, by the Budd Company to remain on its corporate payroll. By virtue of remaining on The Budd Company's corporate payroll, these transferees retained their Budd corporate benefits, including the superior benefits derived from continued participation in the Corporate Pension Plan.

 In this regard, plaintiff approached the Trailer Division's general manager, Jim Howarth, and demanded his entitlement to the superior pension benefits available to salaried management personnel under Budd's Corporate Pension Plan. In response, Howarth requested that J. A. Brooks, The Budd Company's Employee Manager, and R. H. Vansteenkiste, Budd's Group Vice President of Industrial Products, place plaintiff along with three other employees on the monthly payroll. Up to this time, plaintiff had been paid bi-weekly from the Trailer Division's payroll.

 In response to Howarth's request, plaintiff in the latter part of March, 1976, received a letter from Henry Charlton and Bill Graham that stated:

 
"Dear Lou: We are pleased to indicate that effective April 1, 1976 you will be transferred to the Budd monthly payroll."

 Subsequent to this time, plaintiff was paid from Budd's monthly management payroll. This payroll is the one, plaintiff claims, from which the aforementioned transferees were paid and allowed as a consequence thereof to retain their entitlement to benefits under the Corporate Pension Plan.

 Finally, in late December of 1977, plaintiff's relationship with The Budd Company deteriorated. Plaintiff, in an affidavit submitted to this Court, avers that on or about December 27, 1977, he did not sign to the dismay of Messrs Howarth and Charlton, an employee confidentiality disclosure statement. In early 1978, plaintiff, without notice, was demoted to the position of Sales Representative of National Accounts.

 At this time, Henry L. Charlton, Greenblatt's superior, began at the Trailer Division to harass the plaintiff on a daily basis. At one point Charlton, it is alleged, stated to plaintiff, "I hate you goddamn Jews." On another occasion, Charlton viciously related to Mr. Greenblatt, "Lou, when Tyssen buys The Budd Company they are going to build a special microwave oven to put you in." In June, 1981, because Charlton's harassment became unbearable, plaintiff was forced to resign.

 At this time, plaintiff received a letter from defendant, Lewis M. Miller, the Trailer Division's Personnel Manager, informing plaintiff of his entitlement to benefits under the Trailer Division Pension Plan. As plaintiff, in his affidavit submitted in opposition to defendants' motion for summary judgment, explains:

 
in response to this letter, I spoke with Mr. Miller complaining to him that I was entitled to the Budd Corporate Pension Plan as a result of the promises made to me in the past and the conduct taken. Mr. Miller informed me in effect, 'This is your pension, if you want to fight we will hold your pension benefits up until the entire matter is resolved.'

 Affidavit of Louis T. Greenblatt at 5. Because plaintiff "was desperate for . . . funds to live upon," he accepted the pension benefits made available to him under the Trailer Division Pension Plan. ...


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