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Sixth Circuit Affirms Dismissal of ERISA Section 510 Claim Based on Post-Termination Medical Diagnoses

The Sixth Circuit recently issued a decision in Hrdlicka v. Gen. Motors, LLC, No. 22-1328, __F.4th__, 2023 WL 1794255 (6th Cir. Feb. 7, 2023). Plaintiff-Appellant Haley Hrdlicka worked for General Motors (“GM”) for over 30 years before GM terminated her employment due to excessive absenteeism. She brought an employment discrimination lawsuit against GM asserting a number of claims, including an ERISA Section 501 claim. The district court granted summary to GM on all claims and the Sixth Circuit affirmed.

Hrdlicka began working for GM in 1989 and was 53 years old when she was terminated. Prior to her termination she regularly missed work and arrived late. This caused her to miss crucial work related to her job responsibilities. GM fired Hrdlicka after she violated the terms in her “Attendance Letter.” GM has an “Open Door Policy” that provided Hrdlicka the opportunity to appeal her termination through JustUs, a third-party company. JustUs decides whether GM followed their policies and practices when terminating an employee, and reviews only the facts as of the day the termination decision is made. Hrdlicka appealed her termination to JustUs and is diagnosed with Persistent Depressive Disorder and a brain tumor while her appeal is pending. JustUs denied her appeal on the basis that the termination was consistent with GM’s policies and there was lack of evidence to substantiate her allegations of depression at the time of her termination. Further, no one was aware of the existence of her brain tumor when she was terminated.

Hrdlicka argued that GM violated ERISA Section 510 by denying her open-door appeal. The court found that GM had a legitimate, nondiscriminatory reason for denying the appeal, and Hrdlicka has not shown that the reason was pretextual or that interference with her rights was a motivating factor. Hrdlicka’s argument focused on the temporal proximity of JustUs’s decision coming on the heels of learning of her brain tumor. The court did not find that the temporal proximity sufficiently rebutted JustUs’s decision which was based on the facts that were available to GM at the time it terminated her. For these reasons, the ERISA Section 510 claim fails.


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*Please note that this blog is a summary of a reported legal decision and does not constitute legal advice. This blog has not been updated to note any subsequent change in status, including whether a decision is reconsidered or vacated. The case above was handled by other law firms, but if you have questions about how the developing law impacts your ERISA benefit claim, the attorneys at Roberts Disability Law, P.C. may be able to advise you so please contact us.

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