ST. LOUIS — A group of former Sea World employees have prevailed 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.

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