The opinion of the court was delivered by: DALE E. SAFFELS
This case involves Plaintiff's claims that his rights were violated under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq. and the Kansas Wage Payment Act, K.S.A. 44-313 et seq. Plaintiff alleges he was wrongfully denied severance pay benefits from his employer, defendant Harcourt, Brace and Jovanovich, Inc. Plaintiff's job was terminated when his division of the company was sold. Plaintiff, however, was offered, and accepted, employment with the buyer. The matter is currently before the court on Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment. (Doc. 22). For the reasons set forth below, defendant's motion is granted.
On, or about, May 10, 1991, as a result of the sale of the Farm Publications Division ("Farm Publications") of Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., ("HBJ"), plaintiff Kincaid terminated employment with HBJ. On, or about, that same day, plaintiff was offered, and accepted employment with Farm Progress Companies ("Farm Progress"), the company which bought Farm Publications. Kincaid's position with Farm Progress was not identical to the job he held with Farm Publications and eventually required relocation to a different city. Kincaid incurred certain expenses as a result of the move. The Farm Progress severance pay plan also differed from the HBJ plan.
When Farm Publications was sold, HBJ did not pay severance pay to any employee who accepted continued employment with the Farm Progress. HBJ did pay severance benefits to employees who were offered positions with Farm Progress but declined due to substantial personal hardship.
Plaintiff made a claim for benefits under the HBJ severance plan.
Plaintiff's request for severance benefits was considered by HBJ officials in at least three departments: Insurance; Human Resources; and Legal. Plaintiff's requests were denied.
Plaintiff was informed that he was being denied benefits because he had accepted the job with Farm Progress and that he was not entitled to "double dip" both severance pay and continued employment.
Defendant belatedly provided plaintiff with copies of the severance pay plan description/summary plan description and IRS Forms filed for the years 1988 to 1991.
HBJ's Handbook for Employees ("Handbook") is disseminated to all personnel. When updated versions are distributed, employees are required to acknowledge in writing that they have received the update and that they are responsible for familiarizing themselves with any changes.
The 1986 edition and the 1988 edition contained the following:
This Handbook supersedes all previous employer statements, including any previous handbooks, manuals, memorandums, and oral or written statements pertaining to Company policies described here. It is effective immediately and applicable to all employees regardless of their date of employment . . . . When appropriate, the Company may of its own volition deviate from or make exceptions to particular provisions stated here.
HBJ reserves the right, on a case-by-case basis, to interpret its stated or usual policies, practices and procedures when the Company deems it necessary or appropriate. HBJ further reserves the right to modify or revoke, suspend, terminate, or change any or all such policies and procedures, in whole or in part, at any time, and without notice.
The 1988 edition addressed that issue and provided: "severance pay is never paid when . . . a department, division, or subsidiary is sold and the employee is offered continued employment by the buyer."
The revised Handbook was issued in January 1988. Farm Publications was sold on May 10, 1991. From 1988 to 1991, HBJ sold several operating units and never paid severance benefits to any employee who accepted a job offer made by the purchaser.
HBJ determined that some Farm Publication employees who were offered jobs by Farm Progress might decline the offer because of substantial hardship. HBJ made the decision that severance benefits would be paid to those employees who were offered jobs with Farm Progress, but who declined because of substantial hardship.
Of the more that 100 Farm Publications employees, 33 received job offers from Farm Progress. Two employees declined the offer because of substantial hardship and received severance pay. No one received severance pay and accepted a job offer with Farm Progress.
Plaintiff accepted the job offer from Farm Progress. Plaintiff subsequently called Farm Publications President Michael Pickett ("Pickett") and indicated he believed he was entitled to severance pay. Pickett stated that employees who accepted job offers were not eligible for severance pay.
On June 5, 1991, Kincaid wrote to the company claiming he was entitled to severance pay. He further asserted that his employment with Farm Progress did not constitute continued employment, that he had suffered from the change in location, from a ...