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Wednesday, February 21, 2024
Courthouse News Service
Wednesday, February 21, 2024 | Back issues
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Employment Case Belongs in Superior Court

OAKLAND, Calif. (CN) - A federal judge remanded to Superior Court a woman's claim that a Santa Rosa law firm fired her after she was diagnosed with cancer.

Myrna Vandenberg began working for Beyers Costin in 2003. She claims she was fired in 2012 because she was diagnosed with uterine cancer, developed a shoulder injury from stuffing envelopes for four years and turned 60 years old.

She sued Beyers Costin in Sonoma County Superior Court in July 2013 and submitted an amended complaint in August. The amended complaint alleged four state law claims, including medical condition/disability discrimination and age discrimination under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act, and wrongful termination in violation of public policy.

Beyers Costin removed to Federal Court, arguing Vandenberg's claims were preempted by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

Vandenberg sought remand to Superior Court, saying all her claims are state claims and that her complaint "does not allege that her termination was motivated by Beyers Costin's desire to avoid paying her medical benefits, but rather that her termination resulted in the loss of ERISA benefits," according to U.S. District Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong's order granting remand.

Armstrong found that though Vandenberg's health coverage was an ERISA-governed plan, her complaint is not completely preempted.

"Plaintiff does not dispute that she could have brought a claim under ERISA ... to recover benefits on the ground that she was terminated because Beyers Costin did not want to continue to pay her medical benefits," Armstrong ruled.

She added that "Beyers Costin has not shown any of plaintiff's state law claims would not exist if the ERISA plan did not exist. Indeed, Beyers Costin has not argued, let alone demonstrated, that at least one of plaintiff's claims does not arise from an independent state law duty."

Armstrong found remand appropriate even if the law firm could establish that one of Vandenberg's claims falls under federal jurisdiction.

"Because the state law claims asserted in the FAC are not premised on any obligation under an ERISA plan, and because they would exist whether or not an ERISA plan existed, they are based on 'other independent legal duties,'" the judge wrote.

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