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Hankins v. Citigroup

August 28, 2007

GARY HANKINS, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CITIGROUP, INC., ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Leon Jordan United States District Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This civil action is before the court on the defendants' motions for entry of judgment or summary judgment [docs. 11 and 40]. The plaintiff has responded to both motions [docs. 34 and 50], and the defendants have filed two reply briefs [docs. 35 and 53]. The court finds that oral argument on the motions is not necessary, and the motions are ripe for the court's consideration. For the reasons discussed below, the defendants' motions for entry of judgment will be granted.

In his complaint, the plaintiff claims that the defendants failed to pay him the amount of separation pay to which he was entitled after he was laid off in a downsizing reorganization. The plaintiff also says that his claim was not accepted or denied within the 90 days provided for in the severance pay plan; thus, the defendants breached the agreement excusing the plaintiff from performance of any of the executory provisions of the plan. Finally, the plaintiff claims that he has a vested interest and right to the separation pay. He seeks his severance pay or, in the alternative, compensatory damages in the same amount.

I. BACKGROUND

The following facts are found in the in the administrative record filed with the court [doc. 10].*fn1 The plaintiff began his employment in 1981 with Associates Housing Finance, LLC ("Associates"). He later resigned his position, but returned to work about March 1999. Citigroup merged with Associates in 2000. The plaintiff's position was eliminated, effective July 31, 2005, due to a staff reduction.

The Citigroup Separation Pay Plan ("Plan") is sponsored by Citigroup, Inc. The Plan Administrator is the Plans Administration Committee of Citigroup, Inc. ("Committee").*fn2 "The Plan is designed to provide separation pay benefits to eligible employees whose employment is involuntarily terminated . . . ."

Plan, p. 3, doc. 10. The Appendices to the Plan describe the separation pay benefit formulas for specific groups of eligible employees. It is the "only separation pay plan maintained" by Citigroup, with some exceptions, none of which apply here.

Provisions of the Plan and its Appendices pertinent to this case are as follows:

The Plan Administrator will have full and sole discretionary authority to administer the Plan and to determine rights and obligations conclusively for all parties claiming to have an interest under the Plan . . . including but not limited to the discretion to determine whether the Plan covers an individual and whether a qualifying separation has occurred; whether the circumstances of any particular separation make payment of benefits under the Plan appropriate; the applicability of any Appendix which governs the separation pay benefits, if any, to be provided to an eligible employee; and the form of the agreement to be signed by participating employees as a condition of receiving separation pay benefits under the Plan. The decisions of the Plan Administrator shall be final and binding . . . . . . . . [Once a written claim is filed with the Plan Administrator and] your claim is denied, you will receive a written explanation within 90 days after the receipt of your claim . . . . . . . .

You have a right to appeal a denied claim by filing a written request for further review of your claim with the Plan Administrator . . . .

No suit or action for benefits under the Plan shall be sustainable in any court of law or equity, unless you complete the appeals procedure . . . . . . . .

If it is determined by the Plan Administrator that you may receive separation pay benefits under Appendix A of the Plan and you agree to the terms of the Separation Agreement and Release, your separation pay will be calculated as follows: you will receive 2 weeks of base pay. . . for each full 12 months of service with the Participating Companies in the United States Consumer Group since your most recent date of hire . . . up to a maximum of 52 weeks. If you previously were paid separation pay from the Company or one of its affiliates or subsidiaries, and experienced a break in service, in no event will you be paid separation pay for the same years of service. . . . .

The separation payments [may be made] in a single lump sum at the time of termination (or as soon thereafter as practical) or over a payment period of time not to exceed 52 weeks.

On June 10, 2005, prior to the effective date of his separation, the plaintiff submitted a claim for separation pay benefits to the Human Resources Department. Based on his belief that he had twenty years of service with the company, the plaintiff sought 40 weeks of separation pay benefits, not the 12 weeks which the committee believed to be appropriate. The plaintiff's position that he is entitled to 40 weeks of separation pay benefits is based on the fact that the company recognized ...


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