7th Circuit orders Lilly to reinstate ex-employee’s disability benefits

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Eli Lilly and Co. must reinstate disability benefits to its former human resources director after a divided 7th Circuit Court of Appeals found insufficient evidence to support the company’s argument that the former director could still work despite her fibromyalgia symptoms.

Cathleen Kennedy began working for Lilly in 1982 and quickly advanced to become the company’s human resources executive director, earning $25,011 a month. However, Kennedy was forced to quit her job in 2008 due to disabling symptoms of fibromyalgia, which 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Richard Posner defined as “a common and chronic disorder characterized by widespread pain, diffuse tenderness, and a number of other symptoms.”

Kennedy was a member of Lilly’s Extended Disability Benefits plan, so she requested and was approved for monthly benefits of $18,972.44 a month, beginning in May 2009. However, her benefits were cancelled in late 2012, prompting her to file the instant case against the Extended Disability Plan, which reserves discretion to deny claims that do not meet its standard.

Specifically, the plan states an employee has a disability if he or she is unable “to engage, for remuneration or profit, in any occupation commensurate with the Employee’s education, training, and experience.” Lilly’s Employee Benefits Committee revoked Kennedy’s benefits because it found fibromyalgia was not disabling.

However, Lilly “is familiar with fibromyalgia because it markets a drug called Cymbalta … for treating the disease,” Posner wrote in a Thursday opinion. Judge William T. Lawrence of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana award summary judgment to Kennedy for more than $537,000 in past benefits and prejudgment interest and ordered Lilly to reinstate her benefits retroactively to December 2012.

A divided 7th Circuit panel affirmed that decision Thursday, with Posner writing there were several deficiencies in Lilly’s evidence from various doctors and further noting the company “failed to indicate what job or kind of job, and at what level, Kennedy would be capable of performing if the company is permitted to cancel her benefits.”

“Ms. Kennedy was informed by a liaison to the Employee Benefits Committee that if she could work 20 hours per week as a secretary she would not be considered disabled,” Posner wrote. “Yet in its written decision the Committee said only that Kennedy could work in ‘various non-executive positions in compensation, benefits, and other human resources fields,’ which is both vague and inconsistent with the medical evidence.”

Judge Daniel Manion dissented, writing in a separate opinion “it was not improper for the (benefits) administrator to rely on Dr. (Dayton) Payne’s conclusion that Kennedy’s medical records did not support functional limitations, irrespective of the diagnosis of fibromyalgia.” Further, Manion said the Social Security Administration found Kennedy was not disabled, so “the administrator in this case should have been entitled to rely in part on a negative Social Security finding.”

The case is In Cathleen Kennedy v. The Lilly Extended Disability Plan, 16-2314


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  1. One can only wonder whether Mr. Kimmel was paid for his work by Mr. Burgh ... or whether that bill fell to the citizens of Indiana, many of whom cannot afford attorneys for important matters. It really doesn't take a judge(s) to know that "pavement" can be considered a deadly weapon. It only takes a brain and some education or thought. I'm glad to see the conviction was upheld although sorry to see that the asphalt could even be considered "an issue".

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  3. Been on social security sense sept 2011 2massive strokes open heart surgery and serious ovarian cancer and a blood clot in my lung all in 14 months. Got a letter in may saying that i didn't qualify and it was in form like i just applied ,called social security she said it don't make sense and you are still geting a check in june and i did ,now i get a check from my part D asking for payment for july because there will be no money for my membership, call my prescription coverage part D and confirmed no check will be there.went to social security they didn't want to answer whats going on just said i should of never been on it .no one knows where this letter came from was California im in virginia and been here sense my strokes and vcu filed for my disability i was in the hospital when they did it .It's like it was a error . My ,mothers social security was being handled in that office in California my sister was dealing with it and it had my social security number because she died last year and this letter came out of the same office and it came at the same time i got the letter for my mother benefits for death and they had the same date of being typed just one was on the mail Saturday and one on Monday. . I think it's a mistake and it should been fixed instead there just getting rid of me .i never got a formal letter saying when i was being tsken off.

  4. Employers should not have racially discriminating mind set. It has huge impact on the society what the big players do or don't do in the industry. Background check is conducted just to verify whether information provided by the prospective employee is correct or not. It doesn't have any direct combination with the rejection of the employees. If there is rejection, there should be something effective and full-proof things on the table that may keep the company or the people associated with it in jeopardy.

  5. Unlike the federal judge who refused to protect me, the Virginia State Bar gave me a hearing. After the hearing, the Virginia State Bar refused to discipline me. VSB said that attacking me with the court ADA coordinator had, " all the grace and charm of a drive-by shooting." One does wonder why the VSB was able to have a hearing and come to that conclusion, but the federal judge in Indiana slammed the door of the courthouse in my face.