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Supreme Court sides with workers over retirement plan lawsuit deadlines

The Intel logo at company headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif.
(Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)

The Supreme Court sided with workers on the deadlines for suing their retirement plans, saying a three-year clock for suits doesn’t start to run just because the plan sends emails offering details about how the money is invested.

The justices, voting unanimously in a case involving Intel Corp., said courts can’t assume workers read complicated materials that might provide reason to think their investments are being mishandled.

The case centered on a U.S. employee-benefit law that gives workers three years to sue after they have “actual knowledge” of an alleged violation.

“To have ‘actual knowledge’ of a piece of information, one must in fact be aware of it,” Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. wrote for the court. The law also has a separate six-year deadline that bars suits even if the worker didn’t have knowledge.

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Intel is fighting claims by ex-employee Christopher Sulyma that the company made overly risky investments, with too much money in hedge funds and private equity. Intel says the lawsuit was filed after a three-year statute of limitations had expired.

Sulyma, who worked at Intel from 2010 to 2012, received emails more than three years before he sued pointing him to electronic documents that described the investments.

But he says he doesn’t recall reading those documents and didn’t learn about Intel’s hedge-fund and private-equity investments until they became the subject of news reports in 2015, the year he sued in federal court in California. His suit seeks class-action status.

Alito said employers defending suits can try to use other means, including electronic records, to show that particular workers actually saw investment disclosures.

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Federal appeals courts have been divided on the issue. One said Sulyma’s suit could move forward, while another said in a different case that employees don’t get more time just because they failed to read documents that were available to them.


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