This finding alone would allow us to find that Plaintiffs have not met their initial burden; however, we discuss the matter further for clarity. Plaintiffs have also not met their burden for the second requirement in the prima facie case: that the complained of action was taken for the purpose of interfering with their rights. Plaintiffs cannot credibly claim that they were offered jobs at the Sparrows Point plant primarily so that Bethlehem could save on benefits. There is no evidence of this. Rather, it is clear from the evidence that Bethlehem valued the Plaintiffs' and their connection to Bethlehem's Tin Mill customers, and for this reason desired them to move to the new centralized location of Tin Mill Production. FOFN 28. Bethlehem offered each Plaintiff extensive, expensive benefits and a raise in addition to continued employment. FOFN 37. Indeed, Bethlehem allowed Plaintiffs to go on lay-off status for two years following their last day of employment (after the rest of the Customer Service Representatives moved to Sparrows Point) to permit them to accrue two more years of service and benefits. FOFN 63,64. Plaintiff proffers in vain the alternative, circular argument that the jobs were offered with the purpose of removing Rule-of-65 benefits so that they would be forced to take the jobs offered. This argument is similarly without merit. There is no evidence of bad faith on the part of Bethlehem, nor is there any reason to find incredible the testimony that the jobs were offered for real business reasons and not to rob employees of possible benefits. FOFN 26-28, 37.
Moreover, it is not clear to us that the Rule-of-65 benefits were a right to which Plaintiffs are entitled. The benefits, as we have noted, were created as an incentive for Bethlehem to maintain the employment of long-standing employees. It was a benefit for being forced to retire early. Consequently, it did not operate on the employee's desires as to continued employment or retirement, but on the availability and offering of SLTE. In the case at hand, such SLTE was offered, and rejected by Plaintiffs with full knowledge that while they could certainly end their employment any time they desired, they would not receive Rule-of-65 benefits. To award them Rule-of-65 benefits now would be an obvious windfall, a contravention of the intentions of the Plan, and nowhere required by ERISA. See Hlinka, 863 F.2d at 284-285 (holding that because ERISA specifically refers to normal and not early retirement benefits, "the act was not intended to assure the sanctity of early retirement expectations").
We note that even if Plaintiffs were able to establish a prima facie case, Defendants have provided us with more than sufficient evidence, discussed above, to believe that the actions complained of were done for legitimate, non-discriminatory reasons. Because Plaintiffs have made no responsive showing that these explanations are in any way pretextual, we find that they have not met their ultimate burden of proof.
IV. CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
Consistent with the foregoing findings of fact and discussion, we state the following conclusions of law pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 52(a):
1. Plaintiffs have not met their burden in establishing that the decision to deny them Rule-of-65 benefits was arbitrary and capricious.
2. Defendants decision to deny Plaintiffs Rule-of-65 benefits is reasonable.
3. Plaintiffs have not met their burden to make out a prima facie case that Defendants interfered with Plaintiffs' right to Rule-of-65 benefits.
4. Defendants did not engage in prohibited employer conduct by offering Plaintiffs continued work at another plant; this action not taken with the purpose of interfering with any purported pension rights of Plaintiffs.
5. Defendants are entitled to judgment in their favor.
An appropriate order follows.
AND NOW, this 18th day of March, 1997, in consideration of the evidence presented in the three day non-jury trial on April 16, 1996, and continuing on November 19 and 20, 1996; the Stipulation filed November 19, 1996; Plaintiffs' Proposed Findings of Fact and Brief filed December 19, 1996; Defendants' Proposed Findings of Fact, Post Trial Brief, and Responses to Plaintiffs' Proposed Findings of Fact all filed on January 15, 1997; and Plaintiffs' responses thereto filed on January 24, 1997, it is hereby ORDERED:
1. JUDGMENT is entered in favor of the Defendants Bethlehem Steel Corporation, Pension Plan of Bethlehem Steel Corporation and Subsidiary Companies applicable to eligible salaried employees, Bethlehem Steel Corporation's General Pension Board, and Plan Administrator and against all Plaintiffs on all claims;
2. This case is CLOSED.
BY THE COURT
Franklin S. Van Antwerpen
United States District Judge