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Chamberlain v. Lenox Incorporated

April 2, 2007


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hillman, District Judge


This matter has come before the Court on Defendant Lenox, Incorporated's motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff's claims that Defendant breached the terms of their agreement concerning Plaintiff's severance from employment with Defendant. For the reasons expressed below and during oral argument held on January 30, 2007, Defendant's motion will be granted.


Plaintiff, Frank Chamberlain, was employed with Defendant, Lenox, Incorporated, from December 1963 until October 3, 2003, when he was terminated from employment at age 58.*fn1 In a meeting on October 3 with Lenox Vice President of Human Resources, Karen Sloan, and Plant Manager, Boyce Falls, Chamberlain was offered certain compensation and benefits relative to his separation from employment in consideration of Chamberlain signing a release agreement. Chamberlain believed that he was being offered an early retirement package.

The meeting was followed by a letter dated the same day from Sloan to Chamberlain that described his compensation and benefits, and included the release agreement for his review. The letter indicated that in addition to the standard termination entitlements such as payment for unused vacation, Chamberlain would also receive six months of severance pay and continued medical coverage for six months if he signed the attached release. The letter also stated that he would receive complete benefit information in about two weeks.

The release agreement provided for a twenty-one day period in which to review and consider the agreement, as well as a seven day period in which to revoke the agreement after signature by both parties. The release agreement also encouraged Chamberlain to consult an attorney prior to signing the agreement. Following Lenox's advice, Chamberlain consulted with an attorney. His attorney contacted Sloan, who indicated that Lenox would not penalize Chamberlain in his receipt of retirement benefits if he accepted the terms of the settlement. Chamberlain signed the agreement on October 17, 2003.

On October 28, 2003, Chamberlain received the additional benefits information referenced in the October 3, 2003 letter from Sloan. The additional benefits letter explained his pension benefits under the Lenox retirement plan, and stated that if Chamberlain began to collect his pension in 2010 at age 65, he would receive his full benefits of $1,056.10. The letter informed Chamberlain that if he began to receive his benefits before age 65, his payments would be reduced by three percent each year. Chamberlain was also informed that he could begin collecting his pension as of November 1, 2003 with the reduced payments of $839.60. The letter instructed Chamberlain that he would have to apply for benefits at least three months prior to the date he wanted his pension to begin.

Two days later, on October 30, 2003, Katherine M. Corr, Senior Vice President of Lenox, signed the release agreement. Neither Chamberlain nor Lenox revoked the agreement in the seven days following Lenox's signature.

On December 8, 2003, Chamberlain contacted Lenox and asked for a calculation of what his pension benefits would be as of April 1, 2004, which is when his six month severance payments would end. In a letter dated December 9, 2003 from Lenox, Chamberlain was provided with various payment amounts depending on payment terms. Because Chamberlain wished to collect his pension benefits prior to age 65, he was assessed a penalty. On January 2, 2004, Chamberlain chose the "Life, 10-Year Certain" benefit of $816.13 per month. He received a lump sum payment of his entire pension of $45,303.21 on February 3, 2004.

On April 21, 2005, Chamberlain filed a Complaint against Lenox, claiming that it breached their agreement by charging him with an early retirement penalty when he collected his pension. Lenox has moved for summary judgment on Chamberlain's claim.


A. Summary Judgment Standard

Summary judgment is appropriate where the Court is satisfied that "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law." Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 330 (1986); Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c).

An issue is "genuine" if it is supported by evidence such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in the nonmoving party's favor. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). A fact is "material" if, under the governing substantive law, a dispute about the fact might affect the outcome of the suit. Id. In considering a motion for summary judgment, a district court may not make credibility determinations or engage in any weighing of the evidence; instead, the non-moving party's evidence "is to be believed and all justifiable ...

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