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The Supreme Court declined Monday to clarify standards for suing employers who rescind health benefits they initially promised in early retirement packages. At issue was whether CNA Financial Corp. could be held liable for not fully revealing that the benefits could be eliminated. Several federal courts have ruled yes, but the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said only if the employer deliberately intended to deceive workers. The high court’s move Monday leaves lower courts split on the issue. The case involves three former employees of Chicago-based Continental Insurance Company, who opted in 1991 to take an early retirement package that included a monthly stipend for health of $465 to age 65 and $180 per month thereafter. After CNA acquired the company and eliminated the stipend, the retirees sued. They claimed the employer was wrong to tell workers they would receive lifetime benefits. But the 7th Circuit disagreed, pointing out that a little-noticed provision in the plan’s documents gave CNA the right to end the plan at any time. “In hindsight, Continental would have better served its employees by proactively clarifying its intent,” the July ruling stated. “Its failure to do so has left the plaintiffs, and undoubtedly many other longtime former Continental employees, feeling betrayed. However, … Continental’s failure is not actionable.” The case is Vallone v. CNA Financial Corp., 04-502. Copyright 2004 Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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