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Trujillo v. American Bar Association

United States District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division

December 15, 2014



Robert M. Dow, Jr. United States District Judge.

This matter is before the Court on Defendants’ motion to dismiss Plaintiff’s complaint [27]. Pro se Plaintiff Roberto Trujillo contends that he was wrongfully demoted and discharged by Defendant the American Bar Association (“ABA”) after he reported wrongful conduct relating to a pension plan sponsored by the ABA. Plaintiff brings two claims relating to his eventual termination from the ABA’s Human Resources Department. The first alleges a violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”) pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3). The second is a claim under Illinois state law alleging that Defendant Krsul intentionally interfered with Plaintiff’s economic relationship with the ABA. For the reasons that follow, the Court grants Defendants’ motion to dismiss.

I. Factual Background[1]

The ABA sponsors employee benefit plans for its employees that are governed by ERISA. Compl. ¶¶ 6–7. Defendant Krsul chaired the A-E-F-C Pension Plan (the “Plan”). Id. at ¶ 8. The Plan Administrative Committee is the named fiduciary of the Plan; as chair of the Committee, Defendant Krsul qualifies as a Plan fiduciary as well. Id.

Plaintiff was hired by the ABA in June of 2010 to serve as program director of the Human Resources Department; his title later changed to Director of Special Projects/Programs. In this role, Plaintiff assisted the Director of Human Resources with various policies, procedures, and employee benefits. Subsequently, in May of 2011, Plaintiff was appointed to serve as Administrator of the Plan by the Plan Administrative Committee. As Plan Administrator, Plaintiff qualified as a fiduciary to the Plan under ERISA. Id. at ¶ 10. In his role as Plan Administrator, Plaintiff brought several concerning issues to the attention of Defendant Krsul and others at the ABA. Plaintiff alleges that he was disciplined and terminated by Defendants as a result of raising the issues.

Specifically, Plaintiff “alerted Krsul and the ABA that Plan records[, ] documents[, ] [and] participant election forms were lost or inaccurate, ” and told them of “previous overpayments and miscalculation of participant benefits [and] inaccurate payment profiles entered into * * * [a] payment system[.]” Id. at 4, ¶ 12. Plaintiff also advised that “the Plan actuary * * * knowingly maintained improper records of plan beneficiary names and genders.” Id. Additionally, Plaintiff told Defendant Krsul and others at the ABA of billing and invoice payment inaccuracies by the Plan’s attorney. See id. at ¶ 15.

On March 2, 2012, Plaintiff questioned whether certain invoice fees qualified as “settlor fees, ” such that they needed to be paid by the Plan sponsor, as opposed to by Plan assets. See id. at 5, ¶ 11. Under Section 6.4 of the Plan Document, Plaintiff had the authority to make this factual determination in his position as Plan Administrator. Id. at ¶ 17. Although Plaintiff provided supporting material to the Administrative Sub-Committee Chair regarding this issue, Defendant Krsul “decided to implement a biased determination format to decide the matter and followed the Plan Counsel’s opinion that the invoices should be paid through Plan assets, ” not by the Plan sponsor. Id. at 5, ¶ 11.

A few days after Plaintiff raised the settlor fee issue, Defendant Krsul emailed the ABA’s CFO asking if “there was anything going on with the Plaintiff professionally that he should be aware of as the Committee Chair.” Id. at 6, ¶ 12. Plaintiff alleges that Krsul intended to “slander” Plaintiff’s reputation with the ABA. Id. On March 7, 2012 Plaintiff met with the ABA’s Executive Director, General Counsel, and Director of Employee Relations to discuss the settlor fee issue further. Plaintiff provided materials from two law firms that allegedly supported Plaintiff’s position that the fees should not be paid with Plan assets. Id. The Executive Director of the ABA allegedly “advised Plaintiff that if he were to continue to use an independent analysis toward the payment of Plan invoices, the Plaintiff’s job would be in jeopardy.” Id. Later that month, in retaliation for Plaintiff questioning invoices submitted by the Plan’s attorney, Defendant Krsul encouraged the ABA to begin outsourcing the administration of the Plan, thereby reducing Plaintiff’s duties as Plan Administrator by 50 percent. Id. at ¶ 14.

Plaintiff was terminated in June of 2013 and alleges that he has suffered a “severe financial impact, ” as a result. Id. at ¶ 21. Plaintiff sues for “equitable monetary relief” in “an amount in excess of $800, 000, ” for his wrongful demotion and termination. Id. at 11, ¶¶ A–B. Plaintiff also requests punitive damages in excess of $950, 000 for Defendant Krsul’s actions. Id. at ¶ D. Finally, Plaintiff asks that the Court order Defendants to provide a written letter of recommendation because Plaintiff’s demotion and termination has hindered his ability to find other employment. Id. at ¶ C.

II. Legal Standards

Defendants have moved to dismiss Plaintiff’s complaint under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The purpose of a motion to dismiss is not to decide the merits of the case, but instead to test the sufficiency of the complaint. See Gibson v. City of Chi., 910 F.2d 1510, 1520 (7th Cir. 1990). In reviewing a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), the Court takes as true all factual allegations in the complaint and draws all reasonable inferences in plaintiff’s favor. Killingsworth, 507 F.3d at 618.

To survive a Rule 12(b)(6) motion to dismiss, the claim first must comply with Rule 8(a) by providing “a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief” (Fed. R. Civ. P. 8(a)(2)), such that the defendant is given “fair notice of what the * * * claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007) (quoting Conley v. Gibson, 355 U.S. 41, 47 (1957)). Second, the factual allegations in the claim must be sufficient to raise the possibility of relief above the “speculative level, ” assuming that all of the allegations in the complaint are true. E.E.O.C. v. Concentra Health Servs., Inc., 496 F.3d 773, 776 (7th Cir. 2007) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). “A pleading that offers ‘labels and conclusions’ or a ‘formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action will not do.’” Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555). However, “[s]pecific facts are not necessary; the statement need only give the defendant fair notice of what the * * * claim is and the grounds upon which it rests.” Erickson v. Pardus, 551 U.S. 89, 93 (2007) (citing Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555) (ellipsis in original). The Court reads the complaint and assesses its plausibility as a whole. See Atkins v. City of Chi., 631 F.3d 823, 832 (7th Cir. 2011).

III. Analysis

Plaintiff asserts two claims in his complaint: (1) an ERISA claim for unlawful retaliation and termination under 29 U.S.C. § 1140, pursuant to the civil enforcement provision contained in 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3); and (2) a state law claim against Defendant Krsul for intentional interference with Plaintiff’s ...

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