employee benefitsConcerning the employee benefits, on 22nd July 2021, ERIC (the ERISA Industry Committee) put in a request to the US Court of Appeals to ask the Ninth Circuit to permit it to make a response to the opposition to its petition to the City of Seattle to rehear the appeal by ERIC in its legal case against the city by convening en banc (in full-court before all judges). ERIC believes that the panel of three judges wrongly dismissed their challenge to the Seattle mandate for health coverage under Municipal Code (SMC) 14.28.

In a statement from ERIC, the committee expressed its opinion which it has held from the start, that federal law is being violated by the city by its healthcare mandate. The committee has stated that it believes it is essential for the case to not only be reheard by the Ninth Circuit but also for the case to be ruled in its favor so that large employers can provide benefits nationwide to their workforces, and ERISA’s pre-emption can be guaranteed in the future.

The committee believes that a different outcome would jeopardize the ability of employers to offer benefits in a uniform way to employees across multiple locations, and this was the original Congressional intent when enacting ERISA as well as its pre-emption broad provision. ERIC’s CEO and President, Annette Guarisco Fildes, has pointed out that the case is being watched by other cities who have indicated they intend to follow the lead of Seattle, piling more mandates on should the Court fail to strike Seattle’s mandate down.

Previously, ERIC has argued the ERISA, otherwise known as the 1974 Employee Retirement Income Security Act, Pre-empts Seattle’s ordinance.  The rules outlined by Seattle require owners of large hotels as well as ancillary businesses to supply what is tantamount to a city-mandated level of healthcare benefits through employer healthcare plans that are federally regulated.

By requiring hotel employers to make payments directly to their employees or provide cover under their own group healthcare plans, ERIC states that the ordinance has an impermissible connection with and reference to ERISA plans. Therefore, they hold it is pre-empted by the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 law.

In the filing on 22 July 2021, ERIC is seeking to appropriately bolster its request for the case to be reheard by the court since a conflict exists between the ruling of the Ninth Circuit in the Golden Gate Restaurant Association vs. San Francisco case and the decision taken in the Merit Construction Alliance vs. City of Quincy and the Retail Industry Leaders Association v Fielder cases in the 1st and 4th circuits respectively. ERIC’s original petition detailed the reasons why it believed the decision in the former case (Golden Gate Restaurant Association vs. San Francisco) should be overturned by the Ninth Circuit – a decision that was relied on earlier by the Ninth Circuit to dismiss the challenge raised by ERIC to the Seattle healthcare coverage mandate.

A rehearing could permit clarification from the court on its stance regarding ERISA pre-emption.