A former Wells Fargo & Co. employee challenging the company's policy on work visas for foreign national employees failed to sustain his claims under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled in an opinion released publicly Aug. 19 (Karamsetty v. Wells Fargo & Co., N.D. Cal., No. 3:12-cv-01364-JCS, 8/19/13).
The employee resigned his position after learning that Wells Fargo had implemented a policy under which it would no longer be sponsoring employees' applications for renewed work visas. When the former employee was denied severance benefits following his resignation, he brought a claim for ERISA benefits and for wrongful interference with protected benefits in violation of ERISA Section 510.
Magistrate Judge Joseph C. Spero ruled against the employee, finding that Wells Fargo reasonably concluded the employee did not experience an elimination of his position that would entitle him to severance benefits. Spero also found that the employee could not demonstrate that Wells Fargo's stated reason for the visa policy was a pretext for its discriminatory intent to interfere with ERISA benefits. The decision was dated Aug. 7 but filed under seal and was publicly released Aug. 19.
In April 2009, Karamsetty inquired about the status of his employer-sponsored visa, which was scheduled to expire in June 2010. Karamsetty's supervisor told him that an exception would be requested on his behalf, but the request was never made. In February 2010, Karamsetty resigned his position at Wells Fargo.
In December 2010, Karamsetty submitted a claim for benefits under the company's severance plan. He argued that Wells Fargo's nonrenewal of his visa constituted an elimination of his position, which was a qualifying event entitling him to severance under the plan. Wells Fargo denied the claim, rejecting Karamsetty's assertion that his position had been eliminated.
After an unsuccessful internal appeal, Karamsetty filed a lawsuit seeking benefits under ERISA Section 502(a)(1)(B). He also stated a claim for benefit interference in violation of ERISA Section 510.
Under this standard, the court found that Wells Fargo did not abuse its discretion in denying Karamsetty's claim. The court explained that Wells Fargo reasonably determined that Karamsetty's position had not been eliminated, noting that “after [Karamsetty] submitted his resignation, Wells Fargo had to hire a contractor to fill [his] position, which is evidence that [his] particular job was not eliminated.”
Karamsetty argued that the change in visa policy was a reduction-in-force that eliminated his position, but the court was not persuaded. It granted Wells Fargo's motion for summary judgment on Karamsetty's claim for ERISA benefits.
Wells Fargo took the position that Karamsetty's claim accrued in April 2009, when he learned of the policy, making his March 2012 lawsuit untimely. Karamsetty countered that his claim did not accrue until he learned he would not receive severance benefits in September 2010.
Although the court agreed with Wells Fargo that the claim accrued when Karamsetty learned of the allegedly unlawful policy in April 2009, it nevertheless found the claim to be timely under principles of equitable tolling.
With respect to the substance of the Section 510 claim, the court found that Karamsetty stated a valid claim, because he identified an adverse employment action, the visa policy, that prevented him from engaging in a statutorily protected activity--participating in the severance plan. However, Wells Fargo said the purpose of the policy was to “decrease Wells Fargo's reliance on employer-sponsored visas by utilizing the overall increased talent pool of individuals within Wells Fargo as a result of its merger with Wachovia Corporation.”
Because Karamsetty failed to provide sufficient evidence that this nondiscriminatory reason was a pretext for Wells Fargo's desire to interfere with his benefits, the court awarded Wells Fargo summary judgment on this claim, as well.
Karamsetty was represented by Allison H. Goddard and James R. Patterson of Patterson Law Group in San Diego. Wells Fargo was represented by Kathleen C. Slaught, D. Ward Kallstrom, and Michelle M. Scannell of Seyfarth Shaw in San Francisco.
Text of the opinion is available at http://www.bloomberglaw.com/public/document/Karamsetty_v_Wells_Fargo__Company_et_al_Docket_No_312cv01364_ND_C.
All Bloomberg BNA treatises are available on standing order, which ensures you will always receive the most current edition of the book or supplement of the title you have ordered from Bloomberg BNA’s book division. As soon as a new supplement or edition is published (usually annually) for a title you’ve previously purchased and requested to be placed on standing order, we’ll ship it to you to review for 30 days without any obligation. During this period, you can either (a) honor the invoice and receive a 5% discount (in addition to any other discounts you may qualify for) off the then-current price of the update, plus shipping and handling or (b) return the book(s), in which case, your invoice will be cancelled upon receipt of the book(s). Call us for a prepaid UPS label for your return. It’s as simple and easy as that. Most importantly, standing orders mean you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you’re relying on. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.960.1220 or by sending an email to email@example.com.
Put me on standing order at a 5% discount off list price of all future updates, in addition to any other discounts I may quality for. (Returnable within 30 days.)
Notify me when updates are available (No standing order will be created).
This Bloomberg BNA report is available on standing order, which ensures you will all receive the latest edition. This report is updated annually and we will send you the latest edition once it has been published. By signing up for standing order you will never have to worry about the timeliness of the information you need. And, you may discontinue standing orders at any time by contacting us at 1.800.372.1033, option 5, or by sending us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Put me on standing order
Notify me when new releases are available (no standing order will be created)