A U.S. District Court has approved a $9.5 million class-actionsettlement of a decade-long dispute between former members ofOwens-Illinois defined benefit plan and the Ohio-based globalmanufacturer of glass containers.

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Sessions et al v. Owens-Illinois arose from the company's saleof its Owens-Brockway Plastic Products Group unit in 2004.

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On Jan. 1, 2000, Owens-Illinois amended its defined benefit plan toinclude an Enhanced Retirement Benefit for participants who became“terminated retirees” resulting from layoffs.

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The enhanced benefit entitled eligible participants to receivebetween 70 and 100 percent of their pension benefits if theirposition was terminated.

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Upon the completion of the 2004 sale of its Plastic ProductsGroup, Owens-Illinois informed employees their jobs would beprotected subsequent to the sale of the unit, and that they wouldnot be eligible for the enhanced retirement benefit if they did notaccept a “comparable” offer with their new employer.

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A claim was brought in the Middle District of Pennsylvania courtin 2007, and the class was ultimately certified in 2010.

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Owens-Illinois claimed the plaintiffs were not eligible for theenhanced retirement benefits, primarily because they each receiveda “comparable offer of employment” from Graham Packaging, theacquiring company.

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But the plaintiffs, a class of 100 former employees, claimedOwens-Illinois was deceptive in its communication to employeesaffected by the sale, and that no guarantee of “comparable”employment had been made by Graham Packaging.

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Some of the affected employees were offered positions withGraham, but at different locations, according to courtdocuments.

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Plaintiffs also alleged that some employees were offered “sham”positions that were then eliminated, according to theircomplaint.

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Graham also did not grant service credit to O-I employees, didnot allow them to take early retirement until age 62, did notprovide an Enhanced Retirement Benefit when Graham terminated itsdefined benefit plan in 2006, and did not offer a lump-sum optionto retirees or retiree health care benefits.

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Ultimately, a court-appointed mediator was assigned tosettlement negotiations, the terms of which were accepted by U.S.District Court Judge Robert D. Mariani.

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Nick Thornton

Nick Thornton is a financial writer covering retirement and health care issues for BenefitsPRO and ALM Media. He greatly enjoys learning from the vast minds in the legal, academic, advisory and money management communities when covering the retirement space. He's also written on international marketing trends, financial institution risk management, defense and energy issues, the restaurant industry in New York City, surfing, cigars, rum, travel, and fishing. When not writing, he's pushing into some land or water.