The Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA, is a complex and comprehensive federal law concerning all aspects of employment benefit plans. Congress included Section 510 to prohibit two types of conduct: (1) adverse action because a participant availed himself or herself of an ERISA right and (2) interference with the attainment of a benefit under ERISA. According to the legislative history of ERISA, Section 510 was intended primarily to prevent unscrupulous employers from discharging or harassing their employees in order to keep them from obtaining vested pension rights.
Since the passage of ERISA, federal courts have developed the main elements of a claim under Section 510. The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which sits in downtown St. Louis, holds that an employee must show an employer “had a specific intent to interfere with [his] benefits, but that may be shown by circumstantial evidence.”
Thus, a federal court follows a two-step analysis. First, the court must determine whether an employee was actually entitled to under a particular plan. This issue is controlled by the plan documents and not the customs of a company. Second, the employee must prove that an employer took an adverse employment action; and that there is a causal connection between claimant’s participation in the plan and the adverse employment action. The employer can assert that the actions it took were legitimate and non-discriminatory in defense of a Section 510 claim.