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Court orders more proceedings on suit involving former Junior Achievement VP

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The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Tuesday had to determine how best to read Section 510 of the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 to rule whether a former vice president of Junior Achievement of Central Indiana was fired because of his protests about the company’s failure to deposit money into his retirement account.

Victor George discovered in the summer of 2009 that money withheld from his paycheck wasn’t being deposited into his retirement and health savings accounts. He lodged several complaints with Junior Achievement accountants and some executives and contacted the U.S. Department of Labor. He declined to file a written complaint, however. In October 2009, he received checks in the amount owed, plus interest.

George was contemplating retirement when, in early January 2010, JA’s president told George not to come to work the next day. He believes his protests to how JA handled his retirement funds led to his firing. Section 510 of the act prohibits retaliation “against any person because he has given information or has testified or is about to testify in any inquiry or proceeding relating to this [Act].”

Junior Achievement argued – to which the trial court agreed – that the language doesn’t cover George’s complaint. The Circuit courts have disagreed about the scope of Section 510. Some have observed that “testify” and “proceeding” denote formal actions and that “inquiry” also should be understood as a formal proceeding. Two Circuits held Section 510 applies to unsolicited informal complaints, and the 9th Circuit stated that reporting misconduct is a necessary step in the commencement of any formal inquiry.

“We conclude that the best reading of §510 is one that divides the world into the informal sphere of giving information in or in response to inquiries and the formal sphere of testifying in proceedings. This means that an employee’s grievance is within §510’s scope whether or not the employer solicited information. It does not mean that §510 covers trivial bellyaches — the statute requires the retaliation to be ‘because’ of a protected activity,” Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook wrote in Victor George v. Junior Achievement of Central Indiana Inc., 11-3291. “Someone must ask a question, and the adverse action must be caused by the question or the response. What’s more, the grievance must be a plausible one, though not necessarily one on which the employee is correct.”

“George notified Junior Achievement of the potential breach of its fiduciary duties and asked (repeatedly) what would be done to remedy the situation. Those conversations involved an ‘inquiry,’ as we understand that word, because Junior Achievement responded to them rather than ignoring them,” he continued.

The judges reversed summary judgment and noted the District Court must decide whether there is some other ground on which this case may be resolved short of trial or whether a trial on causation is necessary.

 

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  1. Well, maybe it's because they are unelected, and, they have a tendency to strike down laws by elected officials from all over the country. When you have been taught that "Democracy" is something almost sacred, then, you will have a tendency to frown on such imperious conduct. Lawyers get acculturated in law school into thinking that this is the very essence of high minded government, but to people who are more heavily than King George ever did, they may not like it. Thanks for the information.

  2. I pd for a bankruptcy years ago with Mr Stiles and just this week received a garnishment from my pay! He never filed it even though he told me he would! Don't let this guy practice law ever again!!!

  3. Excellent initiative on the part of the AG. Thankfully someone takes action against predators taking advantage of people who have already been through the wringer. Well done!

  4. Conour will never turn these funds over to his defrauded clients. He tearfully told the court, and his daughters dutifully pledged in interviews, that his first priority is to repay every dime of the money he stole from his clients. Judge Young bought it, much to the chagrin of Conour’s victims. Why would Conour need the $2,262 anyway? Taxpayers are now supporting him, paying for his housing, utilities, food, healthcare, and clothing. If Conour puts the money anywhere but in the restitution fund, he’s proved, once again, what a con artist he continues to be and that he has never had any intention of repaying his clients. Judge Young will be proven wrong... again; Conour has no remorse and the Judge is one of the many conned.

  5. Pass Legislation to require guilty defendants to pay for the costs of lab work, etc as part of court costs...

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