California court dismisses lawsuit against Arco

Posted: Friday, April 07, 2000

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- A federal court in Los Angeles has dismissed a class-action lawsuit against Atlantic Richfield Co. by workers who claimed the company wrongly blocked them from accruing benefits while they worked on the North Slope.

The lawsuit was brought last June by 13 workers in Alaska, California and Texas who said Arco misclassified them as contract workers in order to keep from paying benefits.

Arco's defense was that the workers were leased from independent oil-field service companies, so they were not eligible for Arco's benefits program.

The U.S. District Court in Los Angeles didn't address the workers' status in its ruling.

Rather, U.S. District Judge Lourdes Baird ruled that Arco could exclude the workers from its benefits plan even if they proved they were common-law employees of the oil company.

The workers focused on the Employee Retirement Income Security Act in making their case. But Baird said there was nothing in that law that would remedy their situation if they were defined as leased employees under Arco company policy.

Lawyers for the workers said they will appeal the ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Stephen Strong, a Seattle-based lawyer representing the plaintiffs, said the court misinterpreted ERISA.

''Our appeal to the 9th Circuit is based on the point that there are remedies under ERISA, and the law is useless unless there is a remedy,'' Strong said.

The lawsuit asserted that Arco hired, trained, fed and housed the employees, but paid them through a series of payroll agencies.

They were seeking the same health and pension benefits given to Arco's 16,600-member work force.

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