OMA Joins NAM to Restore Uniformity to Interpretation of Retiree Health-Benefit Plans

On January 12, 2018, the OMA joined the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and other business groups in filing an amici curiae brief in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in Zino v. Whirlpool, seeking reversal of the district court’s decision. The district court found a promise to provide unaltered health benefits to retirees for life even though there was no contractual language to that effect. In reaching its conclusion, the district court followed two recent Sixth Circuit decisions that create uncertainty and unpredictability for employers.

In 2015, in M&G Polymers USA LLC v Tackett, the U.S. Supreme Court attempted to bring much-needed clarity and uniformity to the interpretation of retiree health-benefit plans by unanimously rejecting the Sixth Circuit’s Yard-Man rule. But, just two years later, the Sixth Circuit issued decisions in UAW v. Kelsey-Hayes Co. and Reese v. CNH America LLC, straying from the Supreme Court’s holding in Tackett. As a result, the Sixth Circuit is now an outlier in this area of law, which may lead to more litigation in Ohio as a result of forum shopping.

Amici argued that “[e]mployers and employees cannot meaningfully bargain or reliably plan for the future if clear terms in collective bargaining agreements and benefit plans are not enforced” and that massive unexpected costs and unpredictable benefits packages that will result from rulings like the district court’s will hurt employers and employees alike.

Briefing is still ongoing. 2/8/2018