The ubiquity of forum selection clauses which mandate that disputes over benefits be litigated in locations inconvenient to most workers is undermining ERISA. It has increasingly become a problem for employees who have claims under their employer’s benefit plans that, instead of being able to seek redress where they live, have to travel hundreds, if not thousands, of miles to litigate these cases.
Chief Judge Ruben Castillo of the Northern District of Illinois has put the matter to rest. In Harris v. Metro. Life Ins. Co. et al., No. 1:15-cv-10299 (N.D. Ill., July 11, 2016) our firm, together with Ryan Rich of the law firm of Wham & Wham, defeated a motion to transfer a claim involving a life insurance dispute from Illinois to Houston, Texas. Judge Castillo ruled that forum selection clauses can be contrary to ERISA’s stated purpose of protecting plan participants and beneficiaries. He wrote:
“Employers and the insurance companies that administer plans are, for the most part, corporations with access to the resources necessary to defend suits in the districts where their beneficiaries work. . . . Beneficiaries, however, are frequently disadvantaged parties. . . . If forced to sue across the country or not at all, it would not be surprising if many were priced out of pursuing their rights.”
This ruling represents a significant victory for workers seeing protection of their right to receive promised employee benefits.