rights. See Senco of Florida, Inc. v. Clark, 473 F. Supp. 902, 908 (M.D. Fla. 1979) (intent of Congress to protect employees from bargaining away benefits provided by plans qualified under ERISA). The validity of a release under ERISA depends on the entirety of the facts and circumstances surrounding its execution. However, in making that determination the following factors would normally be taken into account: (1) whether the release is in writing, (2) whether the release is clear and specific, (3) whether there was a full and accurate disclosure of the rights being released, (4) whether the employee was represented by counsel, (5) whether there was a real opportunity for negotiation, and (6) the adequacy of the consideration given for the release. Cf. Cirillo v. Arco Chemical Co., 1987 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 11570, No. 87-4026 (E.D. Pa. December 10, 1987) (LEXIS, Genfed Library, Dist. file) (release in ADEA context).
As I stated in footnote 2, supra, I will assume for the purpose of deciding this motion that the consideration given in exchange for the release was adequate. Nonetheless, the waiver is insufficient to release plaintiff's claim, at least on its face, on several grounds: first, it is hardly a model of clarity; second, it does not contain a full and accurate disclosure of the rights being released - in fact it contains several misrepresentations; third, the plaintiff was not represented by counsel; and fourth, it does not appear that there was a real opportunity for negotiation. Under these circumstances, the policies behind ERISA preclude a finding that the waiver signed by the plaintiff effects a valid release of his claim for pension benefits. I will permit the defendants to attempt to show at trial, however, that under all the facts and circumstances, a full disclosure of plaintiff's rights had been made, that the plaintiff had a real opportunity for negotiation and that the plaintiff knowingly and voluntarily waived his right to claim participant status -- and therefore benefits -- for the years 1966 to 1977. See Edwards v. Wilkes-Barre Publishing Co. Pension Trust, 757 F.2d 52, 54 n.3.
The defendants also argue that plaintiff's claim is foreclosed by the doctrine of equitable estoppel. Their argument is that the plaintiff, by signing the waivers and contracts drafted by the defendants, represented that he would not claim to be a plan participant in the future, to the detriment of the defendants. The defendants, however, have cited no case, and I have found none, that apply the doctrine of equitable estoppel against an employee claiming pension benefits under ERISA. Even against an employer, "principles of equitable estoppel are not to be applied lightly in cases involving pension benefits." Higgins v. Carpenters Health & Welfare Fund, 524 F. Supp. 601, 607 (E.D. Pa. 1981); see also Piech v. Midvale-Heppenstall Co., 594 F. Supp. 290, 299 (E.D. Pa. 1984), aff'd, 770 F.2d 1070, 72, 74 (3d Cir. 1985); but see Rosen v. Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union, Local 274, 637 F.2d 592, 598 (3d Cir.) (estoppel against the pension fund), cert. denied, 454 U.S. 898, 70 L. Ed. 2d 213, 102 S. Ct. 398 (1981). In light of the policy behind ERISA to safeguard employees' rights to pension benefits, in light of the fact that the waivers themselves are invalid, and in light of the minimal prejudice, if any, suffered by the defendants, I decline to find plaintiff's claim barred by the doctrine of equitable estoppel.
Finally, the defendants contend that the plaintiff's claim for benefits is barred by the doctrine of laches. Ordinarily, a cause of action for benefits under ERISA does not accrue until the claimant makes an application for benefits and that application is denied. See Miles v. New York State Teamsters Conference Pension and Retirement Fund Employee Pension Benefit Plan, 698 F.2d 593, 598-99 (2d Cir.), cert. denied, 464 U.S. 829, 78 L. Ed. 2d 108, 104 S. Ct. 105 (1983); Paris v. Profit Sharing Plan for Employees of Howard B. Wolf, Inc., 637 F.2d 357, 361 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 454 U.S. 836, 70 L. Ed. 2d 117, 102 S. Ct. 140 (1981); Reiherzer v. Shannon, 581 F.2d 1266, 1272 (7th Cir. 1978). The defendants correctly point out that a party asserting the defense of laches must show both an unjustified delay in bringing the action and prejudice resulting from the delay. Class of Two Hundred Administrative Faculty Members v. Scanlon, 502 Pa. 275, 466 A.2d 103, 105 (1983). Because an action for benefits accrues when an application for benefits is denied, the plaintiff did not unjustifiably delay in filing his claim for pre-1977 benefits.
See Edwards, 757 F.2d at 54 n.3. Moreover, the prejudice suffered by the defendants is not so great as to overcome the policy of ERISA favoring recovery of benefits that have been earned through long years of service. Defendants motion for summary judgment with respect to plaintiff's claim for benefits for the years 1966 to 1977, therefore, must be denied.
The plaintiff has agreed to withdraw his claim for relief under 29 U.S.C. § 1025.
An appropriate order follows.
AND NOW, this 23 day of June, 1988, upon consideration of defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment, plaintiff's response thereto, and the memoranda of law submitted in support thereof, IT IS ORDERED that the motion is granted in part and denied in part as follows:
1. Summary Judgment is GRANTED in favor of the defendants with respect to plaintiff's claim for pension benefits for the time period after and including July 1, 1977.
2. Summary Judgment is GRANTED in favor of the defendants on Count II of plaintiff's complaint.
3. In all other respects, defendants' motion for summary judgment is DENIED.