A proposed class action aims to halt amendments to the NFL Player Disability and Neurocognitive Benefit Plan set to go into effect January 1, 2021 that would reduce or eliminate certain plan members’ disability benefits, even for players who vested their rights to receive the benefits before the changes were made nearly six years ago.
The 21-page lawsuit, filed by three former players, alleges the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan and its retirement board and the NFL Player Disability and Neurocognitive Benefit Plan and its disability board have violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974—ERISA—by setting into motion a series of benefits reductions that will ultimately harm those who vested in their right to disability benefits under the plan before January 1, 2015 and who currently receive benefits from the plan.
The Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Player Retirement Plan, named after the founder of the Philadelphia Eagles and former league commissioner, respectively, has since its establishment in 1994 protected vested rights earned by plan members by, among other measures, prohibiting plan amendments that deprive a player of any rights or benefits irrevocably vested in him, and providing an assurance that, in the event of a transfer of plan liabilities to any other plan, the benefit to which the individual is entitled will not be reduced, the lawsuit begins. Effective January 1, 2015, however, the retirement plan was amended “in violation of these protections” to transfer its liabilities for certain disability benefits to the NFL Player Disability and Neurocognitive Plan, which does not contain any such protections, according to the complaint.
As a result of the liabilities transfer from one plan to another, players who receive their disability benefits from the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle plan, even those who vested in their rights to receive those benefits prior to January 1, 2015, are “in peril of reduction or elimination of those benefits,” the case says.
More specifically, plan members face on January 1, 2021 reductions to total and permanent (T&P) disability benefits by the amount of any Social Security disability benefits that a player receives, a “drastic reduction” in the minimum benefit amount for line-of-duty disability benefits and ultimately the elimination of eligibility for T&P disability benefits based on Social Security disability eligibility, the complaint says.
The plaintiffs, who after their retirements were determined to be totally and permanently disabled, are among likely hundreds who face the possibility of having their contractually vested benefits stripped or drastically reduced as a result of the unlawful changes made to the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle plan, the lawsuit alleges.
Get class action lawsuit news sent to your inbox – sign up for ClassAction.org’s newsletter here.