Two employees claimed in an Eastern District of Pennsylvania class-action complaint against Corteva on Friday that the DuPont and Dow merger eliminated and modified the benefit and pension plan that they were told they would receive.
The plan, called the DuPont Pension and Retirement Plan, began in September 1904 and was “one of the oldest defined benefit pension plans” in the United States. About a year after DuPont announced its merger with Dow, it notified employees that it intended to “freeze the Plan” meaning no new benefits would accrue and no new employees would be eligible. The plaintiffs, however, believed they would still receive a pension similar to the one they were expecting based on communications from the company.
Robert Cockerill said that his family had worked for DuPont for “over three generations,” and that his father received the early retirement pension benefit. The plaintiff was hired in 1992 to work for DuPont as a chemical engineer, and in the 29 years he worked for the company he relocated seven times. Cockerill explained that his wife has been able to work as a teacher in some of the states they have lived in, but because of the time needed to obtain a license to teach and DuPont’s requests that they move she has not always worked and has not been able to work towards a retirement plan or an increased salary.
Reportedly, Cockerill’s family prioritized his work because of the pension plan that they were aware of, and he planned to retire early under the plan available to DuPont employees who work longer than 30 years. “The relocations and sacrifices his family made were all toward the goal of achieving early retirement at age 58,” the complaint said.
The complaint, however, explained that Corteva interpreted the “spin-off” and how it related to the retirement and pension plan differently than had been explained to Cockerill. His 30 years of employment were allegedly stopped when he became a Corteva employee, even though he was not terminated and continued to work the same job. He alleged that the spin-off “significantly reduced” his pension benefit and his retirement date was changed from 2027 to 2034 unexpectedly.
The complaint noted that 7,000 other employees would also be negatively affected by the change although many of those employees are still unaware as the company has not provided any communication explaining this.
Christopher Newton, the other plaintiff, who worked at E.I. du Pont de Nemours since 1999, was reportedly terminated just before the spin off at age 49 after his position was determined to be “excess.” He noted that he has worked for the company for 19 years and the company has filed for more than 40 patents on his inventions, including a recent invention which the plaintiff described as a “pillar product.”
Newton waited to apply for benefits after his employment was terminated in order to maximize his pension, but was then told when he did apply that he would receive only 25% of his benefits instead of 60% as he had been told previously.
Both plaintiffs claimed that the defendants, Corteva, DuPont Specialty Products USA LLC, DuPont de Nemours Inc., E.I. Du Pont de Nemours and Company, the pension plan, and the administrative committee, breached the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and asked the court for injunctive relief.