Settlement reached with disabled employees in pension discrimination case

Employer closing plant didn't inform employees on disability leave of deadline to file for early retirement

An Ontario company has reached a settlement with several employees who brought a complaint of discrimination before the Ontario Human Rights Commission.

Twenty-five former employers of Johnson Controls in Stratford, Ont., claimed the company discriminated against them based on their disabilities when it implemented a closure agreement regarding pension benefits when its plant closed on Dec. 14, 2001. Johnson Controls negotiated the agreement with the union shortly before the closing. The agreement allowed employees in three categories to apply for early retirement before age 65. The categories were:
•employees with 30 or more years of service;
•employees between 60 and 64 with 10 or more years of service; and
•permanently or totally disabled employees with 10 or more years of service.

The agreement allowed able-bodied employees with 30 or more years of service to decide whether they wanted to retire and apply after the plant closing date. However, there was no similar provision for employees in the other two groups.

The company sent a notice about the pension options to employees in the first category on Dec. 11, 2001, but it didn’t notify employees in the other categories they had to apply for a pension before the plant closed. Since the disabled workers weren’t at work, they weren’t aware of this requirement. As a result, the disabled employees made their applications after the plant closure date.

Johnson Controls granted an extension for pension applications for employees between 60 and 64 with 10 years’ service and other employees who were close to 30 years, but not to disabled employees. The disabled employees filed a complaint they were discriminated against because of their disability.

With the help of the commission, the employees were able to reach a settlement with the company before a hearing. Under the settlement, Johnson Controls amended the agreement to allow disabled employees to apply for the pension benefits. This included a provision for employees who died after the plant closure.

Johnson Controls acknowledged its obligations to keep employees who are on leave, whether paid or unpaid, advised of their rights and entitlements to changes in their benefits, particularly retirement health-care and pension benefits.

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