On June 26th, 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States passed a major decision impacting employee benefits with United States v. Windsor 133 S.Ct. 2675 (2013). In that case, the court held Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional and cannot ban same-sex-marriage under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. This case had a large impact on federal rules for spouse with employee benefits and other considerations. For additional impact of this decision, please see blog post dated 9/18/13.
But the Supreme Court was not done there, two additional cases passed in the last few months also impact employee benefits.
On December 3rd, 2013, the Supreme Court also passed Atlantic Marine Const. Co. v. U.S. Dist. Ct. for W. Dist. of Texas 134 S. Ct. 568 (2013). Atlantic Marine held that the forum-selection clause in contracts should be given great deference. The forum clause in this case required all lawsuits to be filed in Virginia despite the fact that the construction work and most of the witnesses and evidence was in Texas. Absent fraud or some other strong public policy argument to void the clause, these provisions will likely be enforced despite convenience or fairness arguments of one party. While this case was not an ERISA or employee benefit case, the precedence set by the Court may well apply to employee benefits.
Finally, on December 16th, 2013, the Supreme Court passed the Heimeshoff v. Hartford Life & Accident Insurance Co. 134 S. Ct. 604 (2013). This was an ERISA case and held that contractual lawsuit limitations are permissible in ERISA benefit plans so long as they are reasonable. The case at issue here included a contractual limit to bring a lawsuit against the long term disability plan that began on the initial claim for benefits and ended after three years. Limits to bring a lawsuit were common for employee benefit programs, and will undoubtedly continue.