The opinion of the court was delivered by: GREENAWAY
GREENAWAY, JR., District Judge,
This matter comes before the Court on the motion for summary judgment of defendants Bell Atlantic Management Pension Plan, Bell Atlantic Corporation, Bell Atlantic Network Services, Inc. and Bell Atlantic Separation Pay Plan and the cross-motion for summary judgment of plaintiff Walter P. Gramm ("Gramm").
Gramm worked for Bell Atlantic Corporation ("Bell Atlantic"), or one of its predecessors and/or affiliate entities,
from July 1, 1963 until April 1, 1993, the date he voluntarily retired under the terms of Bell Atlantic's 1992 Force Management Plan (hereinafter referred to as the "FMP"). Gramm Dep. at 15 (attached to Def. Ex. K and Pla. Ex. B)
Since his retirement from Bell Atlantic on April 1, Gramm has worked as Director of Development for the Market Street Mission ("Market Street"), a non-profit organization
located in Morristown, New Jersey. Id. at 16.
While employed at Bell Atlantic, Gramm participated in the Bell Atlantic Management Plan (the "Pension Plan") and, by virtue of the FMP, also participated in the Separation Pay Plan (the "Pay Plan"). Complaint P 3.
Bell Atlantic is the Plan Sponsor and Plan Administrator of the Pension Plan. Def. Ex. B at § 11. Bell Atlantic also maintains the Pay Plan. Complaint P 3. Bell Atlantic Corporate Employees' Benefit Committee is the Plan Administrator of the Pay Plan. Def. Ex. D. Both Plans grant its fiduciaries, including the Bell Atlantic Claims Committee (hereinafter, "Claims Committee") and the Bell Atlantic Benefit Appeals Committee (hereinafter, "Appeals Committee"), full discretion, with the advice of counsel, to interpret the respective Plans; to determine whether a claimant is eligible for benefits; to decide the amount, form and timing of benefits; and to resolve any other matters either raised by the claimant or identified by either Committee.
In mid-October 1992, Bell Atlantic instituted a FMP by which it offered eligible managers an opportunity to apply to retire or to terminate their employment voluntarily. Def. Ex. L. Under the terms of the 1992 FMP, managers who terminated their employment during a five-month "window" between August 31, 1992 and January 27, 1993 and who were eligible for a service or vested pension, were able to take advantage of certain temporary changes to the Pension Plan. Gramm satisfied the eligibility criteria for a service pension. Def. Ex. U at P 8.
Specifically, in addition to the benefits normally provided under an FMP, the FMP provided eligible managers with a special cash payment for 1993 vacation and personal days. Id. at P 9.
According to the Pay Plan, an employee would be eligible for benefits under the FMP if: (a) the employee is solicited in writing to volunteer for a FMP; (b) the employee voluntarily offers to terminate under the terms and conditions of the FMP before the applicable deadline; and (c) his or her offer to terminate employment is in turn accepted by Bell Atlantic's Vice-President-Human Resources. Def. Ex. D at 7. The original application deadline for participation in the 1992 FMP was November 13, 1992. However, Bell Atlantic extended this deadline. The first extension was to November 30, 1992 and ultimately to December 7, 1992. Id. at P 12.
On November 23, 1992, Gramm received via facsimile a handwritten Pension Calculation Summary Sheet which stated that his 100% Lump-Sum Cash-Out amount was $ 543,203.54. Pla. Ex. C. On various occasions between November 23, 1992 and January 7, 1993, Gramm called the Bell Atlantic Benefits Window hotline;
Bell Atlantic established this telephone number to answer employee questions about the FMP. Ex. U at P 17. On December 14, 1992, Gramm received the same November 23 Pension Calculation Summary Sheet in the mail; it had the same cash-out figure of $ 543, 203.54
Pla. Ex. D.
On March 11, 1993, Geraldine Bell, a representative of the Claims Committee, informed Gramm that his 100% cash-out amount had been mistakenly calculated because it had not taken into account the Plan's early retirement discount.
Def. 12G PP 41-42. Bell added that she would send him a revised pension calculation and that he should expect a reduction of approximately $ 50,000.00. Def. Ex. U at P 32. Bell explained to Gramm that the reduction was due to an error in the calculation -- i.e., the previous calculation had not taken into account the early retirement discount. Pla. 12G P 62. Bell also told Gramm that he did not have to retire if he did not want to and inquired as to whether Gramm intended to continue with his retirement; Gramm responded that he would review the revised calculations but that he believed he had little choice but to proceed with the retirement. Bell advised Gramm that the effective date of his retirement would be April 1, 1993. Def. Ex. U at P 33.
Between March 3 and March 11, 1993, Gramm took the following actions:
(1) he informed his wife and his immediate family that his claim was allowed and that he therefore was eligible to retire from Bell Atlantic under the terms of the 1992 FMP;
(2) he told Market Street about the Claims Committee's decision and formally accepted the job as the Director of Development;
(3) he notified two customers of his decision to retire early and discussed their respective future support needs without him as the Project Leader; and
(4) he informed his immediate supervisor and several co-workers of the Claims Committee's decision and his ...