The opinion of the court was delivered by: Robert H. Whaley United States District Judge
FINDING OF FACTS AND CONCLUSIONS OF LAW
A jury trial was held that began on April 8, 2013 and concluded on April 16, 2013, in Riverside, California. The jury was asked to determine whether Defendant wrongfully terminated Plaintiff. It found for Plaintiff on his claims of wrongful termination in violation of public policy, violation of Labor Code § 1102.5, and violation of Labor Code § 98.6; and awarded $457,250 in compensatory damages and $357,500 in punitive damages.
At the same time, Plaintiff presented an ERISA retaliation claim before the Court. The following are the Court's Finding of Facts and Conclusions of Law with respect to Plaintiff's ERISA claim.
Section 510 of ERISA contains an anti-retaliation provision that protects employees who report potential ERISA violations:
It shall be unlawful for any person to discharge, fine, suspend, expel, discipline, or discriminate against a participant or beneficiary for exercising any right to which he is entitled under the provisions of an employee benefit plan . or for the purpose of interfering with the attainment of any right to which such participant may become entitled under the plan. . . It shall be unlawful for any person to discharge, fine, suspend, expel, or discriminate against any person because he has given information or has testified or is about to testify in any inquiry or proceeding relating to this chapter.
Section 502 authorizes civil actions brought to enforce a plaintiff's right as set forth in other sections of the Act.*fn1 Thus, to establish a claim of retaliation under section 501, Plaintiff must show: (1) he was engaged in activity protected under ERISA; (2) he suffered an adverse employment action; and (3) a casual link exists between the employees protected activity and the employer's adverse action. Kimbro v. Atlantic Richfield Co., 889 F.2d 869, 881 (9th Cir. 1989). To show causation, Plaintiff must show that his protected activity was the motivating force behind his discharge. Id.
The evidence presented at trial establishes the following: Plaintiff Scott Teutscher was an employee of Defendant Riverside Sheriffs' Association (RSA) from September, 1999 until September 13, 2005, when he was terminated by James Cunningham, Executive Director of RSA. Prior to working for RSA, he had fifteen years of law enforcement background working with the Riverside County Sheriff's Offices. He began working for RSA as a Field Representative. As a field representative, Plaintiff handled grievances between the deputies and their employer, the County of Riverside, and helped the deputies with Worker's Compensation matters.
In November, 2002, Plaintiff was promoted to the position of Legal Operations Manager for the RSA Legal Defense Trust (RSA-LDT). His annual salary at the time he was terminated was approximately $92,000.00 in wages and benefits, not including Christmas bonuses, IRA contributions, or use of the company car.
RSA-LDT is an ERISA Trust. It is a pre-paid legal plan that collects premiums from plan participants, and in return, provides them with a benefit. Specifically, the RSA-LDT provides plan participants with a lawyer, field representative, and/or other legal representation services when the plan participant needs such service. The RSA-LDT is governed by a document called a "Plan Document." The RSA-LDT "Plan Document" controls the coverage decisions made by the Board of Trustees and sets forth the scope of coverage. The Plan provides coverage for criminal and civil cases as well as administrative proceedings relating to employment. It also provides legal coverage for cases seeking "affirmative relief" or lawsuits brought to benefit the entire RSA membership.
As Legal Operations Manager for RSA-LDT, Plaintiff was responsible for the day to day operations of the RSA-LDT. This involved planning, organizing and directing the work of staff members in the legal representation division, making initial contact with members of RSA-LDT who were under investigation for disciplinary action, and investigating the claims. He also assisted the RSA-LDT Board as it considered, approved, or denied coverage of the cases.
In 2003, Jim Cunningham was hired as Executive Director as RSA. He became the Trust Administrator of the RSA-LDT in November, 2004 and, as a result, directed Plaintiff's day to day activities as an employee. Plaintiff's last performance evaluation was conducted by Cunningham on February 15, 2005, at which time he was evaluated in ten categories. He received the rating "meets job requirements," in eight categories, "exceeds job requirements" in one category, and "needs improvement" in one category. Thus, the ...