Why must a Detroit employee fight for her retirement benefits in a Washington, D.C. courthouse? Attorney calls for elimination of practice that makes it prohibitive for workers to make a case for rightful benefits
Media Contact: Barbara M. Fornasiero, EAFocus Communications; email@example.com; 248.260.8466
Royal Oak, Mich.—October 11, 2022—Employees generally don’t read their employee benefit plan documents closely, but even if they did, it would be easy to miss the details in the so-called “forum selection clauses.” According to national employee benefits and ERISA attorney J.J. Conway of Michigan-based J.J. Conway Law, the language that explains what court and location (the ‘forum’) an employee must use to have a contract dispute heard is inadvertently serving as a deterrent for employees to fight for rightfully earned pension benefits.
“I’ve encountered forum selection clauses several times, but with each new case, I wonder why such an impractical approach to pursuing employee benefits is permitted to continue,” Conway said. “It appears the purpose of such clauses may be to prevent an employee from actually receiving their rightfully earned benefits.”
In a current case that is typical of such clauses, Conway is representing a Detroit-based union employee whose forum selection is Washington, D.C.
“The matter involves a fairly routine case for recovering missing pension credits where an employee is seeking a correction of the hours she earned toward her pension over many years of employment,” Conway said. “Why must a Detroit-based employee travel to Washington, D.C. to secure these types of benefits? She is determined to get what is rightfully owed to her, but others in the same situation, who are unrepresented by legal counsel, really don’t have a chance against these clauses; the net result is they lose their benefits.”
Conway explains that forum selection clauses nearly always increase legal fees for employees, as counsel hired to represent the client must retain additional local counsel licensed in the appropriate forum. He adds that federal courts regularly and reflexively enforce forum selection clauses. And the continued inclusion of such language in benefit plan documents is the ultimate culprit.
“Benefit plan language is, unfortunately, drafted to protect the rights of the plan and its administrators, not for the employees who are receiving the benefits as an integral part of their compensation program,” Conway said. “When employers offer benefits to help their employees, it only follows logically that the plan documents should follow suit. I find it troubling that forum selection clauses are widely allowed to continue, especially in an era where other aspects of the workplace are changing to ensure fairness and equity. Employees legally disputing a retirement benefit claim shouldn’t have to leave their home state to do so.”
About J.J. Conway Law
J.J. Conway Law was founded by John Joseph (J.J.) Conway in 1999 to work with individuals seeking full access to the employee benefits they have earned. The firm has been involved with nationally significant employee benefit, disability, and pension cases, including class action lawsuits for such landmark decisions as requiring Michigan private insurers to cover autism health treatments for children through age 18 and protecting the pension rights of City of Detroit employees, police and firefighters as well as Wayne County employees by holding their trustees accountable for investment decisions. The firm’s motto is “Conquer Tomorrow®” and is dedicated to making tomorrow easier for their clients across the United States. Learn more on the firm’s website.
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