A Focus on Facts in the Seventh Circuit: George v. Junior Achievement of Central Indiana

An upcoming article of mine in the Journal of Pension Benefits argues that ERISA litigation and potential exposures are moving away from strict constructionism and technical legal arguments to fact based inquiries into potential harms to participants, and traces how we came to that place. This is a more significant change than it may appear to any of you who do not spend your time litigating ERISA disputes. This shift is going to make ERISA litigation more like other litigation, with a focus on factual development and discovery, and less on doctrinal argument. The Seventh Circuit’s recent ruling in George v. Junior Achievement of Central Indiana, Inc., discussed in this excellent synopsis here, is a perfect example of this phenomenon, with the Court rejecting a technical, statutory basis for rejecting a retaliation claim under ERISA in favor of a broader reading of the relevant statutory language, one that can allow for a fact-based inquiry into whether or not the participant actually was retaliated against. You can expect more and more of this kind of shift in the future, across the range of issues impacting ERISA plans, particularly with regard to retirement benefits, whether provided under defined contribution or instead defined benefit plans.