ST. LOUIS — A group of former Sea World employees have
after the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals found they were
entitled to enhanced pension benefits under parent company
Anheuser-Busch's employee-pension plan.
In a decision filed on Feb. 22, the 8th Circuit affirmed a
St. Louis federal court's finding for the nine named plaintiffs, who
represented employees who had been involuntarily terminated from
employment from Busch Entertainment Group after Anheuser-Busch merged
with InBev in 2008.
They sued in 2012, claiming that Section
19.11(f) of the Anheuser-Busch pension plan provided for an
enhanced pension benefit for participants whose employment with the
controlled group was involuntarily terminated within three years of a change in control. The enhanced benefit section stipulates that five
years would be added to the participant’s credited service for
purposes of calculating benefits, the ruling stated.
The 8th Circuit also ruled in favor of the plaintiffs' cross-appeal that claimed the lower court failed to make individual
calculations, reversing the district court's calculation and remanded with
instructions to reconsider the plaintiffs' request for calculation
and awarding of benefits.
On remand, the district court also was instructed to reconsider
whether certain records concerning absentee class members would help
assist the calculation of benefits.
The claims of plaintiffs Brian Knowlton, Douglas Minerd, Gary
Lensenmayer, Charles Wetesnik, Nancy Anderson, Richard Angevine, Joe
Mullins, Andy Fichthorn and Donald Mills Jr. were initially denied by
the Anheuser-Busch retirement-plan administrator.
In its findings, the plan administrator stated
the “purpose for the special benefits under Section 19.11(f) is to
provide additional benefits to individuals who are out of work after
they involuntarily lose their employment within three years after a
change in control of Anheuser-Busch Companies.”
The administrator held that eligibility for enhanced benefits
under Section 19.11(f) required “an actual break in an individual’s
employment, rather than simply a change in the owner of the entity
employing the individual during a period of continuous employment.”
The Pension Plans Appeals Committee upheld the decisions when the
plaintiffs appealed the benefit denials.
A suit was then filed in federal court, where a judge later adopted the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals's ruling in
Adams v. Anheuser-Busch, which it said presented "the identical issue."
In the Adams case, the 6th Circuit concluded the plan
administrator's denial of benefits was “arbitrary and capricious.”
Three months after the district court entered judgment, it also
granted “Anheuser-Busch’s motion for a final order and stay of
judgment pending appeal.”
“Rejecting plaintiffs’ request to calculate the specific
amount of benefits due to each class member, the district court
simply ordered Anheuser-Busch to direct the plan administrator to
provide each member of the class with the enhanced pension benefit
under Section 19.11(f),” the ruling said.
Anheuser-Busch also was ordered by the district court to make a
remedial back payment with interest “to those members of the class
whose benefits had already been paid and to make future pension
payments with the benefit of Section 19.11(f) to those members of the
class not yet eligible for benefits.”
Final judgment had been stayed pending the outcome of any appeals.