Spherion Corp. Steals $426,000 From Widow

Thomas Amschwand knew he was dying and did everything in his power to make sure his wife would be able to collect his $426,000 life insurance policy. Yet when the 30-year-old succumbed to heart cancer, his employer, Spherion, a temporary staffing company, told his widow Melissa that she would receive nothing.

Spherion had switched life insurance providers without informing Thomas. Under the new policy, employees had to work for one full day to activate their coverage. Spherion never mentioned this to Thomas, and repeatedly assured him that he didn’t need to do anything to retain his coverage.

His widow said he easily could have worked a day if that was what it took to activate the new policy. Spherion could have waived the one-day-of-work provision, as it did for other employees but not for Amschwand.

When Thomas died, because the policy had never been formally activated, Spherion refunded his insurance premiums and told his widow she would receive nothing else.

The story has played out often under the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act. Designed to protect employee benefits, the law has been used by employers as a shield against suits.

Federal appeals courts, interpreting Supreme Court decisions dating to 1993, consistently have said companies that offer health, life and retirement benefits under ERISA cannot be sued for large amounts of money, or damages. Instead, they can be sued only for typically smaller sums such as Amschwand’s insurance premiums.

Several federal judges have bemoaned the unfairness even as they have felt constrained to rule in favor of employers.

“The facts … scream out for a remedy beyond the simple return of premiums,” Judge Fortunato Benavides of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in the Amschwand case. “Regrettably, under existing law it is not available.”

The Supreme Court recently refused to hear Melissa’s case. Congress has refused to act. Insurers continue scrape up lucre, and consumers are left to suffer.

Employers use federal law to deny benefits [AP]
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  1. homerjay says:

    Spherion is a staffing company. Every one of their customers should drop them the minute they hear about this. Its not like they’re the only game in town. Staffing companies are a dime a dozen.

  2. timmus says:

    Situations like this are where consumer activism really shines. With a court system, legal system, and mass media co-opted by corporate interests I sometimes wonder where we’d be without the power of the Internet.

  3. bullwhip6 says:

    This really p*ssed me off. So the first time in my life, I wrote the U.S. Senator who started looking into this (Patrick Leahy).

    Granted there was a gotcha clause, who’s to say some corporation would just outright refuse to pay on a legitimate claim in the future?

  4. TechnoDestructo says:

    @homerjay: It would be nice to hear from people who have been placed through them the names of the companies for whom they were working.

    Nice to know where to put the pressure.

  5. failurate says:

    This is very disturbing. I will definitely take every opportunity to share this story.
    They had a clear chance to do the right thing and instead chose to celebrate loop-holing their way into doing something evil (by the books, but evil none-the-less).

  6. DanaM says:

    I started looking online to see if I could figure out who their customers are. The first one I found? Sprint.

    I’m not optimistic. :-(

  7. The_IT_Crone says:

    This is HORRIBLE. I can’t even find the right words.

    The post says that they waived the one-day requirement for other employees. That’s GOT to be the smoking gun… right? Or is there some kind of “pre-existing condition” clause that made only him being required to do the one-day garbage?

    Best wishes for the widow, how absolutely crushing.

  8. deadspork says:

    This totally blows me away. I had no idea a company could be so devilish and still be within the laws. Has CNN or a local media news outlet been notified of this? Maybe some bad press will apply enough pressure, in addition to consumerist.

  9. deadspork says:

    And I just spent a good 15 minutes typing up a well-worded letter to my Representative, only to have it wiped out when I hit submit due to some error :(
    Booo!

  10. DanaM says:

    It’s out there… [ap.google.com]

    The question is how to make the publicity more costly for the company than paying this woman what she should get. And of course, getting Congress to fix the law.

  11. angelmom1 says:

    When we the people allowed the Supreme Court to decide the presidency, the door was opened for big business to begin it’s evil reign. It has led to the utter chaos we’re in now. Insurance companies can collect and collect but then refuse to pay out. Companies can refuse to pay employees benfits and retirement as they go through bankrupies and pay CEOs millions and millions. We as a nation need to open our eyes and realize the axis of evil rules Washington and we as honest citizens are considered at best, sheep to be fleeced, at worst, terrorist. Democracy and freedom no longer belong to the average citizen, only to big businesses, oil companies, Congress, and the president. This is a sad story but it is only one of many we will never see on the 6:00 o’clock news.

  12. nsv says:

    Since they waived the one-day-of-work provision for other employees but not Amschwand, it seems like that’s the place to start hitting them.

  13. Concerned_Citizen says:

    It doesn’t say, but I assume he did work there before getting sick. So how do they get to deny him based on having not worked a day? His employment didn’t start when they switched insurance companies. It started when he first started there. I guess the issue here is, did they receive documentation in the mail outlining the new rules? If not and their only notification was through the company via the phone, clearly there is an issue here. Aren’t employees supposed to be notified of things like this in writing?
    And this doesn’t seem to be a case of the dispute of the benefits and it’s rules. This is a dispute involving someone taking premium money, but not actually setting up the benefit. Isn’t this insurance fraud?

  14. rbcat says:

    @nsv: There is no “hitting them.” The case has progressed through the legal system and ended with the Supreme Court failing to act. All the pressure in the world won’t do any good if their clients also fail to act, or if their potential employees do not sign up with the company, and neither is going to happen. Employees need the money and clients will enjoy the cost savings.

  15. nsv says:

    @rbcat: Ah crap, that’ll teach me to read while I should be sleeping.

    While I don’t look to our legal system for logical decisions, I don’t understand how this was allowed to happen. If nothing else, the rules should apply or not apply to all employees the same way. If the provision doesn’t apply to all employees why would it apply to him?

  16. Here in austin Spherion is very big in staffing. This town has a lot of temp to hire companies. Spherions big company here….. Dell Inc. They supply they call centers and manufacturing here.

  17. landsnark says:

    With this bold act, Spherion has pushed back the frontiers of Douchebaggery.

    Hopefully someone on the internets can think of a way to shame Spherion into doing the right thing, since the Supreme Court and Congress are unwilling. ‘

  18. mrjimbo19 says:

    Dell is a major user of Spherion staffing as a holiday filler (for busy order times) and as a temp to perm situation. They are based in Florida so let’s put our heads together and figure out how to make this better.

    My recommendation would be to as others have said write the companies that use them and tell them how bad they are.

  19. cac67 says:

    @angelmom1: So this all started when the supreme court ruled in favor of Bush in 1999? Before that, corporations were our friends? Did you notice that the article says these supreme court rulings go back to 1993?

    And since the election was in dispute, who would you have preferred settle the dispute? The UN?

  20. jeffgentry says:

    I’ll never consider Spherion as a source of staff augmentation again and will do everything in my power to ensure that hiring managers in my company are aware of this situation. I went to Spherion’s Facebook page and attempted to post a simple request for an explanation and the message said “Some content in this message has been reported as abusive by Facebook users.” This was the post. Judge for yourself:

    Title: Explanation Requested
    [ap.google.com]

    My guess is they have all reviews blocked.

  21. Eoghann says:

    @angelmom1: The Supreme Court DID NOT decide the presidency. They ordered Florida to manually recount the votes. Your opinion doesn’t mean you get to rewrite what actually happened.

    Meanwhile, this situation sucks. I sincerely hope the widow finds some recourse against Spherion, and they get theirs where it hurts. It also appears that their blog allows comments. Perhaps its readers would like to know what happened, and its bloggers can be given their shot to answer. I’m not optimistic that will actually happen though.

    [www.spherion.com]

  22. I hope the same judge(s) rule in favor of justifiable homicide if some of the victims go seek justice their own way.

  23. Kajj says:

    They’re moderating comments at the blog, so spamming their site with links to this article probably won’t work.

  24. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    [www.spherion.com]
    “Your comment has been received and held for approval by the blog owner.”

  25. pizzaparty2 says:

    Here is a little bit more on the story
    [news.yahoo.com]

  26. pizzaparty2 says:

    whoops, thats the exact same story
    my bad

  27. mrdot says:

    @angelmom1: the problem isn’t with the courts, its with our legislature. From the article: “The facts … scream out for a remedy beyond the simple return of premiums,” Judge Fortunato Benavides of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in the Amschwand case. “Regrettably, under existing law it is not available.”

    Judge Benavides’s wikipedia page shows he was nominated by Clinton and is viewed as fairly moderate. He doesn’t seem like someone who would be unwilling to rule in favor of “the little guy” when it is appropriate to do so.

    There are two ways to resolve disputes like this- either through the legislature or through the courts. When courts resolve controversies like this, sometimes they rectify oversights in the law. Othertimes they position their personal views over those of the people even when the law is clear. If Judge Benavides is to be believed (and I know of no reason not to belive him), the law here appears to be clear and until our representatives change the law, we shouldn’t get upset at the court. Hence the phrase “bad law leads to bad rulings.”

  28. warf0x0r says:

    I worked for them in college. They tried to suspend me because I shared the fact that I got a raise to my co-workers who did the same job and started at the same time as I did. They told me I wasn’t allowed to openly discuss my paid wage. Turns out one of my co-workers knew this was false and called them on it. So I had to back in and listen to them tell me that I “shouldn’t” discuss my wage instead of saying “couldn’t”… Yeah that place sucked.

  29. pengie says:

    I worked for Spherion briefly–they are a CLASS ACT. One of the temps in the same group as me was reported for sexual harassment, and Spherion would not fire him despite Dell’s urgings. They would, however, happily drop me and refuse to rehire me after I took a few days off to fly home and see my sister graduate from high school. This with A MONTH OF NOTICE and multiple people saying “oh, it’s fine.” It’s nice to come home and find yourself jobless. Screw them, they deserve whatever they get.

  30. pal003 says:

    Spherion bought up lots of smaller staffing firms to become pretty big, pretty fast. I know they offered greencard processing to some employees, then forget to file paperwork, etc., in order to keep extending their employment with them no matter how much abused. They had crappy benefits and lied about bonuses and other incentives. Really low life company.

    But they were able to hire lawyers who found a loophole in ERISA. Congress must change this among other loopholes, like with COBRA. So Vote for the person who will support workers, not just corporations.

  31. Charles Duffy says:

    My wife worked for Spherion for a while, until she hurt her back moving shipping materials and went on workman’s comp. They put her on an office job as soon as she was able — which she was great at — but then stopped giving her hours (effectively dismissal) as soon as her back was better, over the protests of the manager for whom she had been assigned to do clerical work in the interim.

    Can’t say I’m too fond of them.

  32. Rachael says:

    This is absolutely despicable. What can we do to help? If the Supreme Court won’t step in, what avenues are available to this poor woman?

  33. PanGalacticGargleBlaster says:

    @pengie: All Dell would have had to do was say they didn’t want the employ on their property and Spherion would have had to remove that employ. They could still keep him on staff for assignments at other companies just not at Dell. If you work for a temp agency that’s the price you pay. The employer your agency contracts to can decide they don’t want you at any time for any reason and your ass is out the door.

    Spherion, the insurance company, and the courts made very poor decisions. People wonder why there’s no workplace loyalty any more. So many of our leaders have lost their integrity there’s no one left for us little guys to put our faith in.

  34. MyPetFly says:

    Messrs. Atkinson and Havel,

    As of today, I am a former Spherion client. This decision to drop Spherion is due to the publicity generated by the poor handling of the life insurance case of the late Thomas Amschwand. You can read more about this at:

    Spherion Corp. Steals $426,000 From Widow

    Although the headline might be a bit of hyperbole, it does come pretty close. I plan to do two things. I will buy a few shares of stock so I may exercise my rights as a shareholder in your company, and I will notify appropriate news outlets and bloggers about the treatment of Mr. Amschwand’s widow.

    Sincerely yours,

    David Barak

  35. MyPetFly says:

    Questions or having online trouble? Contact us at 800 SPHERION (800 774-3746) or via email. help@spherion.com

    Members of the Press
    (800) 422-3819
    Kip Havel kiphavel@spherion.com

    Investor Relations
    Randy Atkinson investorrelations@spherion.com

    Corporate Headquarters
    2050 Spectrum Boulevard
    Fort Lauderdale, FL 33309
    (954) 308-7600
    E-mail help@spherion.com

  36. Pro-Pain says:

    This is the lowest of low. Utterly disgusting. I would go midievil of this company if this happend to me. The loss would be staggering and monumental.

  37. Eoghann: The Supreme Court DID NOT decide the presidency. They ordered Florida to manually recount the votes.

    Actually, no. In Bush v. Gore, SCOTUS ordered Florida to STOP its recount. “In a per curiam opinion, by a vote of 7-2, the Court in Bush v. Gore held that the Florida Supreme Court’s method for recounting ballots was unconstitutional, and by a vote of 5-4, held that no alternative method could be established within the time limits set by the State of Florida.”

    Not that it has much bearing on this particular case, but if you’re going to correct someone, you might as well do it correctly.

    And IANAL, but is there any piece of paper where the company said there was nothing further for the deceased to do to trigger insurance benefits? Because then we’re talking fraud, and the widow might have an actionable cause. Right now, with SCOTUS refusing to review, she’s SOL.

  38. Scuba Steve says:

    @landsnark: Unfortunately $426,000 isn’t “PR” money, and while Spherion will probably gain our wrath and contempt, the average person and company that uses their business remains unaffected and will probably not pay attention to things like this.

    As for “Deciding the Presidency”, our trend down corporate favoritism started way before Bush, and even Clinton. That’s not to say it won’t get worse, just as electing a democrat won’t make it better.

    I’d say 90% of congress is in Bed with corporate interest in one way or another, and anyone who has any fiscal or regulatory responsibility is screened very thoroughly by the Business interests in Washington.

  39. sonneillon says:

    The supreme court isn’t really the best bet when dealing with an insurance company. The commissioner of insurance is far more effective at getting insurance companies to pay out. Some companies even lose their license to sell insurance in a state over this sort of thing. The courts only care about the letter of the law and the letter of the contract. The commissioner of insurance cares about the intent of the insuring company. She may still get the shaft but it’s a different avenue to explore.

  40. Sherryness says:

    I know it won’t happen, but I would love to see all Spherion employees who are outraged by this walk off the job for one full day – and then tell the company they are assigned to why they were gone when they come back. If enough people did this, Spherion would not fire them – And it really hurts staffing companies when the employees they snd out don’t show up.

  41. Sherryness says:

    Oh, and of course they should all do this all on the same day.

  42. Mr. Roy Krause
    Chief Exec. Officer, President

    Mr. Mark W. Smith
    Chief Financial Officer, Principal Accounting Officer and Exec. VP

    Mr. William Grubbs
    Chief Operating Officer, Exec. VP and Head of Commercial Staffing and Professional Services Unit

    Mr. John D. Heins
    Chief HR Officer and Sr.

    Ms. Loretta A. Penn
    Chief Service Excellence Officer and Sr. VP

  43. TACP says:

    Here in Nashville, Dell has not used Spherion for at least a year now; they don’t use temps here anymore, period. The local Spherion offices have closed and their monthly job fairs are gone.

  44. pearl_girl says:

    I had first heard of this case yesterday afternoon when it was posted in Yahoo headlines. I can’t believe that this occurred in 2001 and I hadn’t heard about it until now. Either way I am grateful that I am now aware of this case although completely disturbed, I am hooked on following this story and case.

    So based on what I’ve read and researched, the Supreme Court ruled that this case could not go forward due to ERISA law set in 1974 and would not even be subject to review.([www.dol.gov])

    nsv & concerned citizen – the work one day rule is waivable, and the reason why Aetna did not pay out the life insurance premium although they have a clause which allows this stipulation to be waived for ill patients is because SPHERION failed to include Thomas Amschwand on the exception list. They also failed to inform Mr. Amaschwand that the insurance policy had a.) changed and b.) of the new clause for the life insurance to take effect and c.) gave incorrect information when the Amschwands asked “is there anything further to do.”

    With all the above facts, I found it completely shocking and reprehensible that Spherion was able to shirk their responsibility of performing their due dilgence yet still have the gall to hide behind such an official law. In my personal opinion, their HR department is responsible for gross negligence. Unfortunately, there is a law protecting Spherion although I’m sure that it was never intended for a circumstance such as this.

    His widow, Melissa Amschwand has since moved on, and started a foundation to benefit cancer patients and I wrote to her, asking what someone like me, just a member of the public could do to help and she wrote me back! I am happy to share this with you. I will be writing to my senator as well as Sepherion as well as enlightening those around me.

    ——

    Thank you so much Virginia. I really appreciate your support more than words can express. It is a travesty of justice that employers like Spherion are not held accountable for the promises they make to their employees. Hereʼs what you can do to help:

    1) Please share this story with all of your friends and loved ones. Urge them to purchase individual policies for life and disability.

    2) Tell all your friends and loved ones to write their U.S. representatives and senators and ask for a change in the ERISA law. Otherwise, they may find themselves vulnerable and exposed just like me. Your friends can find their senators and representatives listed at [directory.usayfoundation.org] They just need to look under their own state. If you like, you can simply copy and paste the article in your email to your friends and just ask them to forward to their congresspersons and ask for a change in the ERISA law.

    —–

  45. I’m sure all the executives above firmly believe what Spherion did is right and would not be at all embarrassed if their friends and relatives knew about what happened.

    Maybe we should start putting up fliers in Ft. Lauderdale that look like this:

    Ask me about Melissa Amschwand.

  46. I’m sure all the executives above firmly believe what Spherion did is right and would not be at all embarrassed if their friends and relatives knew about what happened.

    Maybe we should start putting up fliers in Ft. Lauderdale that look like this:

    Roy Krause, CEO Spherion Corp.
    Ask me about Melissa Amschwand.

  47. pearl_girl says:

    @mypetfly – good for you!

  48. rosie4chai says:

    Spherion temps walking out on the same day would only cause problems for the temps. When you work for a temp agency, you agree to a 2 day notice when leaving a job, and if you leave without notice or don’t tell them you’ll be absent, you receive only minimum wage for the hours of that week you DID work, and are subject to firing.

    I don’t think it would matter how many people did it at the same time, it’s policy, and temps sign an agreement before being allowed to work.

    I work for Spherion. Do I agree with what they did? No. Will I quit my job tomorrow because of this? No. Have you tried getting a new job recently? Most major companies are in hiring freezes and are relying on temps to get non-manager level work done.
    I’m a college student. I work for Spherion over the summer, and they have always been good to me – finding me jobs quickly, communicating effectively.

    But I do know that the people who work in my local office would notify anyone of changes in policy, if they were made aware. How do you know that the person who told Amschwand his life insurance was all set didn’t know any more her/his-self? They SHOULD have informed him, but it is not necessarily the entire company that is bad.

  49. rellog says:

    @twophrasebark: That sounds like a great idea. I’d be up for it if I lived in the same city as this douche bag…

    Hope someone kneecaps the execs of this crap-hole company…

  50. rellog says:

    And, as a faithful Bush basher, I’d be pleased as punch to lay into Georgie if I could, but according to the article, even he is against this bug business ploy… (unless I’m reading this wrong…)

    “The Bush administration has argued that the appeals courts are misreading the precedents and has asked the high court at least twice to clarify the earlier rulings. So far it has refused.”

  51. dweebster says:

    Scumbags.

    Temp agencies (aka “body shops” or “new slavemasters”) should just be made illegal. Loosen up rules on employers so they can pay an increased wage for a “trial” period, then be required to hire “permanently” after a certain amount of time.

    And if anyone still isn’t convinced that Universal Healthcare and other basic human support isn’t necessary after reading this widow’s plight, then your soul is deader than her husband.

  52. dweebster says:

    Scumbags.

    Temp shops are unmitigated evil. Some day we will look on this period and these forms of “employment” as the slavery that they truly are. No benefits, games like this being played, creating a society with no hope for the future except winning lotto or robbing a bank. Nice.

    Universal Healthcare and other basic human needs are absolutely overdue. To think not would indicate one’s soul is deader than this widow’s late husband.

  53. Shadowman615 says:

    @Eoghann: Please check your facts about the Supreme Court and the recount. They voted to prevent the recount, the opposite of what you said.

  54. uncle_fluffy says:

    banks and insurance companies… they exist only to collect money and find reasons not to give any of it back to you when by any reasonable measure they should do so.

    avoid them whenever possible, otherwise see to it that your elected officials regulate the crap out of them.

  55. nsv says:

    @dweebster: I moved to a different state and got on with Manpower after I moved. It gave me an instant paycheck (which is important after a move,) introduced me to several people in the area, and got me regular work for several months until I found a full time job.

    I’m mighty happy that it’s available as an escape hatch if I suddenly need work.

  56. hardtoremember says:

    I don’t use Spherion and I can certainly make sure that none of my friends in Las Vegas do. Once you get a bad reputation around here it is very difficult to overcome.

    Not that it means much but I wrote an email to them from the contact us page. I hope the press that they are getting leads to a change in their attitude because this is just abhorant.

  57. Charred says:

    Definitely time to vote with your feet. If you need temps, don’t call Spherion; if you work for them, leave.

  58. JollyJumjuck says:

    I’m a little bit confused. Spherion Corp. switched insurers without telling Thomas Amschwand about the switch, and Spherion has the power to waive the one-workday activation requirement? I thought only the insurance company had that power. And if the benefits coordinator of Spherion misled Amschwand about the new policy requirements, then why isn’t Spherion on the hook for negligence? Should not Spherion themselves be paying out the equivalent of the insurance money?

  59. negitoro says:

    @JollyJumjuck – Regarding the waiving of the one day requirement, I’d imagine that Spherion (if for nothing else other than goodwill) could credit Amschwand with having worked a day in the payroll system following the switch (essentially, paying him 8 free hours so that he is eligible for insurance claims). I mean, just clock him for a day of ‘training’ or something. At most companies, this should be something any manager could do with approval from a supervisor.

  60. michael_dell@dell.com

    Maybe if they lose a large client?

  61. llcooljabe says:

    “Insurers continue scrape up lucre, and consumers are left to suffer.”

    I know insurers are a frequent target, most of the time deserved. but in this case, how is this the insurer’s fault? And how do they scrape lucre, when the premiums were refunded?

  62. cerbie says:

    @angelmom1: except, that, you know, the Supreme Court was just doing what it is intended to do, there; and this situation dates back to the early Clinton years; and it is way off topic.

    In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, …

    Hello?

  63. @negitoro: Why would they? Right now, their move is saving them almost half a million dollars. If they can sleep at night knowing what they did to this poor man and his family, that’s a pretty good economic incentive to do the evil thing here…

  64. Kmoney says:

    llcooljabe makes a good point: should our anger be reserved for Spherion or the insurer??

    I’m thinking Spherion is to blame bc 1) they knew the insurer had been changed, and 2) they were aware of that Amschwand needed to work one day to activate it.

    But the question remains: did they come up with this plan on their own or did the insurer help, bc ultimately the insurer would be the one saving money, right?

  65. picardia says:

    This is completely loathesome. I will not forget this company’s name and have e-mailed this story to several friends who are in positions to hire temporary staffing, telling them never to have anything to do with Spherion — anybody who will cheat their employees will cheat their clients. Everyone involved in this decision — completely ripping off a dying man and his widow — should be publicly reviled.

  66. neuman1812 says:

    TJX hired Spherion to clean up the mess from the Credit Card issue. I was hired by Spherion for TJX along with 300 other people. They had seating for 200 people. I left that position after 1 month because of the grief they put me through.

  67. mariospants says:

    This is a downright scary story. Essentially, any company could do this to you and me and pull the rug out from under our feet. I imagine they do similar shenanigans when you reach retirement age…

  68. TheNerd says:

    I would love to write a letter to my congresspeople, but I admit I am at a loss for what exactly is the issue, legally. I am not familiar with insurance (as I cannot afford it), and I don’t see how I could possibly convince a congressperson to understand something I myself don’t. I guess even a link to this story is better than nothing, but I feel it really would be a waste of time. I ask that next time an encouragement to write a letter is issued, that you include exactly what “legalese” is required to help solidify the arguement.

  69. newfenoix says:

    Several clients of this company have already canceled their services with them. And with good reason. If a company will do their employees this way, they will do it to the clients.

  70. SybilDisobedience says:

    What a tragedy for the widow. My company uses Spherion for its temp staffing – what can I do? I’m a pretty low-level employee and I don’t know where to start. I probably won’t be listened to anyway.

  71. mac-phisto says:

    Several federal judges have bemoaned the unfairness even as they have felt constrained to rule in favor of employers.

    “The facts … scream out for a remedy beyond the simple return of premiums,” Judge Fortunato Benavides of the New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said in the Amschwand case. “Regrettably, under existing law it is not available.”

    this is what really digs me. you are a freakin federal justice. if there should be remedy under the law, make one. stick your neck out & make a precedent already. & if SCOTUS reverses your decision, so be it.

    while ERISA may protect employers, it certainly seems as though there are conflicting laws at play here, which should give a federal judge ample maneuvering room for a ruling. either melissa’s case isn’t as strong as it appears to be, her lawyer is a moron, or we just have some whimpy justices out there.

    with the state of things today, i think i know the answer to that one already…

  72. drrictus says:

    @mac-phisto: when unelected, untouchable people start making the rules, we tread on very thin ice.

    Though I think Spherion’s behavior calls for “Pit and the Pendlum” treatment.

  73. colie-best says:

    whats shameful is that alot of employers are switching their liabilites to staffing agency. Spherion knows that most of the policies that they are underwriting is supplemental insurance. belive me i know i am license agent. email me your request and i will glady anser all questions. especially fo our seniors. service@docguy.net

  74. @JollyJumjuck: I think that is the case here. Spherion is being found liable for their mistake. However, they are arguing that, under ERISA, they can only be sued for an amount equal to the premiums paid by Melissa’s husband. Since they’ve already paid her back, there is nothing to sue for.

    @TheNerd: The legal issue being discussed is the amount a company could be sued for when, they are negligent or deliberately misbehave or defraud someone. ERISA has been interpreted to mean that any company that offers health, life, and retirement benefits cannot be sued for large amounts of money.

    Thus, the problem could arise that you could be giving the company you work for some of your paycheck to buy life insurance for you. But instead of buying life insurance for you, they just blow it all on drugs and hookers. Then when you up and croak, they say “oops, sorry about that” to your widow/er and give her/him what you paid in premiums, which would most likely be far less than the amount of insurance you thought you had purchased. Since they offered health/life/retirement benefits, there is no legal recourse for your widow to go after them, and since no one is changing the law (or the interpretation of it), there is no reason for the company to change their behavior. Basically, it’s a “get out of jail free” card.

    Oh yeah, obligatory IANAL, but that is the way I understand it.

  75. Ereshkigal234 says:

    My husband worked for Spherion for 6 months. Total. After the first two weeks, they started “forgetting” to give him a paycheck each week. When he brought it up with them, they blamed him for not coming in to pick them up, even though he had Direct deposit from the first week. Kleberg bank luckily went after them for sending empty payments via direct deposit to his account and proved he was getting no money from them. Once the payments actually started. They wouldn’t let Ikon direct hire him from them. They refused the paperwork every time. He had a chance to move from 10$/h to 18$/h with Ikon. Spherion told them he could not switch due to “probation” because of a payment error, which was their fault.

    I will NEVER doubt Spherion to be a bunch of backstabbing “employers”
    Sad part is there really is nothing she’s gonna be able to do i guess. If there was a way that i knew of. I’d suggest it. If she accepted the payment from them for the premiums he paid into… I don’t think she’s gonna be able to get anything else.

  76. hamsangwich says:

    @pearl_girl: Thanks for all the great info!

  77. mac-phisto says:

    @drrictus: it’s not that they’re making the rules necessarily. when multiple laws conflict, it’s up to our judges to decide which law sets the framework & relate conflicting laws accordingly. i would think that evidence of other waivers of on-day-of-work provision would signify discrimination in this particular case. does ERISA supersede EOE guidelines or ADA rules (is heart cancer a “disability”? i dunno.)?

    regardless, the statute seems to conflict itself. it establishes that employers have a fiduciary duty to employees, but then denies relief for a breach of duty?!? that alone should be enough for a federal judge to remedy the situation.

  78. spherionamschwandcase says:

    Spherion provides responses to frequently-asked questions concerning the Amschwand case here:

    spherion.com/amschwand.jsp

  79. MissGayle says:

    “Activist judges” pull their equivalent of “jury nullification” all the time. It’s certainly odd that they choose not to when it comes to ERISA. Anyone care to follow the money?

  80. Sidecutter says:

    For what it’s worth, Spherion contacted me by phone or e-mail for a local position today. While I am certainly looking for better positions, this one paid notably less than my current one, and this issue and some of the others I know of from here and elsewhere make me extremely hesistant to take employment with them at any pay level. Here’s a copy of what I wrote them:

    (Recruiter’s Name),

    I am afraid I must respectfully decline to pursue this opportunity with you. The pay rate is signifigantly lower than my current full time employee status with my employer, which would make this a poor choice for me.

    I also find myself turned away by the way in which your company handled the situation of the late Mr. Thomas Amschwand and his widow, Melissa Amschwand. This situation, and Spherion’s behavior in it, was most unbecoming of such a large organization. The situation reflects poorly on your company for those who value having an employer who will work with them not only to meet the requirements of the law, but also in good conscience and with a display of moral character.

    Respectfully,
    (Me)