Pactiv Corp. v. Rupert, No. 12-3704 (7th Cir. 2013)Annotate this Case
Reynolds acquired Pactiv in 2010 under an agreement that calls for severance pay to any non‐union employee terminated without cause, within a year, as a result of the acquisition. Pactiv established a severance‐pay plan with implementing terms, including a requirement that the departing worker execute a separation agreement in a form acceptable to the company, releasing all other claims against Pactiv. Within a year, Pactiv directed Rupert to relocate. He declined. Pactiv acknowledged entitlement to severance pay and sent him an agreement, which required that Rupert promise, for the next year, not to work for competitors in research and development, solicit sales of competing goods and services, or try to hire Pactiv employees. He had not previously been subject to a restrictive covenant and declined to sign. Pactiv withheld severance benefits. The district court held that Rupert was entitled to benefits because the formal plan, governed by ERISA, lacks any language conditioning benefits on signing a restrictive covenant; material terms must be in writing, 29 U.S.C.1102(a)(1). The Seventh Circuit vacated, noting that Rupert did not ask for benefits under Pactiv’s plan, but asked for benefits under the acquisition agreement, repeatedly asserting that the plan is irrelevant to his claim. The court remanded for consideration under that agreement.