Principal Owes Disability Benefits Despite LinkedIn Posts

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

Principal Life Insurance Co. must reinstate an injured truck driver’s disability benefits of nearly $4,000 per month, a federal judge ruled ( Flaaen v. Principal Life Ins. Co. , 2017 BL 342933, W.D. Wash., No. 3:15-cv-05899-BHS, granting plaintiff’s motion for judgment on the administrative record 9/27/17 ).

Principal was wrong to conclude that it didn’t owe benefits to the truck driver, who had an associate’s degree in media design and had some experience with video production, the judge said Sept. 27. Principal said the truck driver was capable of earning between $49,525 and $65,395 in public relations and sales jobs based on his experience. The judge sided with the truck driver, who said that all of his video work was done on an amateur basis and that he couldn’t be reasonably expected to break into such competitive fields.

This case is an example of how job information posted on LinkedIn—particularly information that might overstate a person’s abilities or experience—can be used by disability insurers to deny benefits.

Here, Principal terminated the man’s benefits in part based on his LinkedIn profile, which said he had been a producer for “Mariposa Productions” since 2010. The truck driver said this company name was one he created for his schoolwork at the urging of his professors and wasn’t a business that had produced anything for profit.

Principal also cited LinkedIn references to the man’s work as an actor, but he told the court that all his acting work was done on an unpaid basis through local community theater.

In 2016, the Screen Actors Guild pension plan defeated a lawsuit by a retired stunt woman seeking disability benefits based on part on information on the stunt woman’s LinkedIn and IMDb pages, which showed her to be working regularly despite her claim to suffer from disabling depression.

In the truck driver’s case, Judge Benjamin H. Settle of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington ordered Principal to reinstate the driver’s disability benefits and pay him retroactive benefits for the payments he missed.

Roy Law represented the truck driver. Inslee Best Doezie & Ryder and Wilson Elser Moskowitz Edelman & Dicker represented Principal.

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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