Brooks v. Pactiv Corp., No. 12-1155 (7th Cir. 2013)Annotate this Case
In 1999 Brooks, an assembly-line operator for Prairie Packaging, was seriously injured on the job and lost his left hand, wrist, and forearm. He filed a workers’ compensation claim seeking recovery for permanent and total disability, which remains pending. Prairie treated Brooks as a disabled employee on a company-approved leave of absence, so that he continued to receive healthcare coverage. Pactiv acquired Prairie in 2007 and continued this arrangement. In 2010 Pactiv sent Brooks a letter instructing him to submit documents verifying his ability to return to work; failure to submit would mean termination of employment. Because his injury was totally disabling, Brooks did not submit verification and Pactiv fired him; he lost his healthcare coverage under the employee-benefits plan. Brooks sued Pactiv and Prairie under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, 29 U.S.C. 1001–1461, for benefits due and breach of fiduciary duty and asserted an Illinois law claim for retaliatory discharge. The district court dismissed. The Seventh Circuit affirmed with respect to ERISA because Brooks did not allege that the employee-benefits plan promised him post-employment benefits. Pactiv acted as an employer, not as a fiduciary, in terminating Brooks’s employment and cancelling his health insurance. The court reinstated the state law claim.