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GAIK v. TRAVELERS INS. CO.

November 12, 1996

Fran Gaik, Plaintiff,
v.
The Travelers Insurance Company, et al., Defendant.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: LINDBERG

 Plaintiff Fran Gaik and her husband Casey owned and operated Insurance Benefits Administrators, Inc., ("IBA") from 1975 to 1991. In 1991, the Travelers Insurance Company ("TIC") bought IBA and renamed it the Travelers Telebrokerage, Inc. ("TTB"). TTB retained Fran as Vice President of Operations and Casey as President. TTB maintained the same benefits package as IBA and even used the same benefits handbook (after adding a new cover). IBA never had a severance plan in place for any of its employees, and none of the approximately seventy-five employees laid off in connection with TIC's acquisition received any severance.

 Fran and Casey were employed by TTB from 1991 to January, 1995. During this time, Fran took on increasing responsibilities and received commensurate pay increases. Fran performed some of her new responsibilities on behalf of TIC, and she received a TIC title to accompany her new role. However, at all times Fran remained solely on the payroll of TTB and received TTB's benefits. TTB employee benefits differed substantially from those of TIC. TIC's benefits were described in "Your Travelers Passport Benefits Handbook," which was updated regularly. According to numerous TIC documents, including "Passport '94," severance benefits were available to

 
any officer or manager with a Company pay code of 30, 31 or 32 who is regularly employed on a full-time salaried basis and who is on a U.S. dollar payroll of a participating Company.

 "Participating companies" were listed in Appendix A and included TIC and three of its wholly owned subsidiaries (Travelers Life and Annuity Company, Center for Corporate Health, Inc., and Travelers Health Network). TIC subsidiaries not on the list were TTB and U.S. Behavioral Health.

 The plan also describes the formula for calculating benefits for those who were eligible.

 
An Employee who is deemed eligible for benefits under the Plan shall be paid two weeks salary for each year of continuous service completed with the Company, subject to a maximum of 52 weeks salary for 26 or more years of continuous service.

 "The Company" is defined as "The Travelers Corporation and its affiliates as set forth in Appendix A."

 Plaintiff was terminated on January 13, 1995 (effective January 31, 1995) shortly after TIC merged with Metropolitan Life Insurance Company, forming MetraHealth. Both before and during the merger process, MetraHealth distributed memos and newsletters to its employees clarifying various aspects of the transition process. These documents repeatedly explained that it would take approximately one year to integrate the two companies fully and to create a single pay and benefits system. Until that time, employees would remain on the payrolls of their previous companies and would be entitled to the same benefits packages as they had previously enjoyed.

 During her termination interview, plaintiff communicated the fact that she believed herself to be entitled to, among other things, one hundred weeks of severance benefits (four weeks per year multiplied over twenty-five years). The benefits were denied. On March 7, 1995, Paul Eddy, counsel for TIC, wrote plaintiff a letter in which he explained that her request for benefits was denied because, although TTB management had expressed a desire to implement a severance plan, no severance plan was in place at TTB. Furthermore, TTB was not a participating employer in the TIC plan. He closed the letter with an invitation for plaintiff to contact him should she have any questions, a desire for further discussion, or a willingness to settle her outstanding claims in exchange for a release. Plaintiff responded with a letter to the effect that she had little interest in discussion and had already filed lawsuits.

 In the case before this court, plaintiff claims that she is entitled to severance benefits under one of two theories. First, she claims that she should receive severance under the TIC Plan because much of the work she did was for TIC (a "participating employer" under the plan). Second, she asserts that TTB did have a severance plan in place (TTB either adopted the TIC plan or created its own). Defendant has moved for summary judgment on all theories. Summary judgment for defendant will be granted.

 Summary judgment is appropriate where no genuine issue of material fact exists and the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 586, 89 L. Ed. 2d 538, 106 S. Ct. 1348 (1986). If there is no genuine issue of material fact, then summary judgment must be entered in favor of the moving party. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265, 106 S. Ct. 2548 (1986). A mere scintilla of evidence supporting a position will not suffice, Brownell v. Figel, 950 F.2d 1285, 1289 (7th Cir. 1991), nor will "self-serving statements," unsupported by affidavits or other evidence. Seward v. B.O.C. Div. of General Motors Corp., 805 F. Supp. 623, 631-32 (N.D. Ill. 1992). Rather, a "reasonable jury" must be able to render a verdict in favor of the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202, 106 S. Ct. 2505 (1986).

 The TIC Plan

 Plaintiff claims that she is entitled to benefits under the TIC Plan. Defendant counters with two arguments in the motion for summary judgment: 1) that plaintiff is not a beneficiary under the terms of the plan and 2) even if plaintiff were entitled to benefits, she failed to exhaust her administrative remedies.

 As defendant correctly points out, a plaintiff's failure to exhaust her administrative remedies is usually fatal to her suit. Furthermore, the decision to require exhaustion as a prerequisite to bringing suit is a matter within the discretion of the trial court and may be disturbed on appeal only when there has been a clear abuse of discretion. Powell v. AT&T Communications, Inc., 938 F.2d 823, 825 (7th Cir. 1991).

 In response to the accusation that she failed to exhaust her administrative remedies, plaintiff contends that she was unaware of the existence of any such remedies. Plaintiff proffers no legal authority to support her assertion that ignorance is an excuse. Usually, "a litigant who fails to press a point by supporting it with pertinent authority, or by showing it is sound despite a lack of supporting authority or in the face of contrary authority, forfeits the point." Sullivan v. J.S. Sales Plumbing, Inc., 1994 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 1909, 1994 WL 55658, *1 (N.D. Ill.), citing Pelfresne v. Village of Williams Bay, 917 F.2d 1017, 1023 (7th Cir. 1990). In order to reach a correct resolution of the summary ...


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