Anheuser-Busch Owes Bigger Pensions to SeaWorld Workers

Employee Benefits News examines legal developments that impact the employee benefits and executive compensation employers provide, including federal and state legislation, rules from federal...

By Jacklyn Wille

Anheuser-Busch Cos. owes beefed-up pension benefits to about 800 former SeaWorld theme park workers whose company was sold off in connection with the beermaker’s merger with InBev, a federal appeals court ruled ( Knowlton v. Anheuser-Busch Cos. , 2017 BL 53356, 8th Cir., No. 15-3538, 2/22/17 ).

In addition to finding that the workers were entitled to larger pensions under a plan provision governing changes in corporate control, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit Feb. 22 ordered a lower court to calculate the exact benefits each worker was owed. This is a thorough victory for the employees of former Anheuser-Busch subsidiary Busch Entertainment Corp., the amusement park company that was sold to the Blackstone Group in 2009 for about $2.7 billion.

The decision follows a 2014 appellate court ruling in favor of former employees of Metal Container Corp., an Anheuser-Busch subsidiary that manufactured aluminum beverage containers. In that case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit found that the 60 former Metal Container workers were “involuntarily terminated” under the terms of Anheuser-Busch’s pension plan when their company was sold to Ball Corp. in connection with the InBev merger.

In the SeaWorld case—which was certified as a class action in 2014—the Eighth Circuit agreed with the district judge who found that the sell-off of Busch Entertainment meant that the workers were “involuntarily terminated” and thus likely entitled to higher benefits. However, the court said that the district judge was wrong to merely order Anheuser-Busch to recalculate their benefits. Instead, the judge should have attempted to calculate and award the benefits owed to the workers, the Eighth Circuit said.

The dispute will now go back to the district court for a determination of benefits owed.

Chief Judge William Jay Riley wrote the decision, which was joined by Senior Judge Diana E. Murphy and Judge Lavenski R. Smith.

Tucker & Ellis, Wingert & Grebing, Stone & Leyton and Jacobson & Press represented the SeaWorld employees. Dowd & Bennett and Skadden Arps represented Anheuser-Busch.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jacklyn Wille in Washington at jwille@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jo-el J. Meyer at jmeyer@bna.com

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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