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Home > Blog > Blog > Benefits Interference > Seventh Circuit Affirms Dismissal of ERISA Interference Claim Brought by Indian Citizen Against IBM USA

Seventh Circuit Affirms Dismissal of ERISA Interference Claim Brought by Indian Citizen Against IBM USA

In Chaudhuri v. Int’l Bus. Machines Corp., No. 21-2631, 2022 WL 543178 (7th Cir. Feb. 23, 2022), Plaintiff-Appellant Monodip Chaudhuri, proceeding pro se, sued IBM USA for interfering with his claim for long-term disability benefits in violation of ERISA § 510. Chaudhuri is an Indian citizen and employee of IBM India. For several years he worked on assignments in the United States. After two months into a three-year assignment in Wisconsin, he was diagnosed with degenerative spinal disease. He sought long-term disability benefits under a plan that IBM India purchased for employees working in the U.S. for more than six months per year. However, benefits accrued for workers present in the U.S. after a nine-month disability period. The U.S. Department of State denied renewal of Chaudhuri’s H-1B visa because his work was not sufficiently specialized. He returned to India before the end of the three-year assignment and continues to work for IBM India. Chaudhuri, frustrated by his ability to obtain long-term disability benefits, sued IBM USA. He alleged that the company pressured him to return to India and ended his assignment to prevent him from renewing his visa during the nine-month disability period. The district court granted IBM USA’s motion for summary judgment because IBM USA was not Chaudhuri’s employer and was an entity separate from IBM India. Additionally, there was no evidence that IBM USA was involved in Chaudhuri’s benefits or work visa.

The Seventh Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court. ERISA § 510 makes it unlawful for “any person to … discriminate against a participant or beneficiary for exercising any right to which he is entitled under the provisions of an employee benefit plan.” 29 U.S.C. § 1140. IBM USA did not employ Chaudhuri so it could not have taken any adverse employment action against him for trying to obtain benefits. There is no evidence that IBM USA did anything to prevent him from accessing his benefits through IBM India. He alleged that a manager and two colleagues in Wisconsin pressured him to return to India before he became eligible for LTD benefits, but he admitted that all three were IBM India employees. His doctors also recommended he return to India, and though Chaudhuri speculated they gave this recommendation at the behest of his employer, there is no evidence that was the case. The court found that Chaudhuri’s cross-motions for summary judgment lacked merit and were untimely filed without leave.

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