Kaiser Promised Benefits, Then Hatcheted Them, Woman Says
11-12-2013 23:00:00

     SAN FRANCISCO - Kaiser promised a woman her retirement benefits would be reinstated from the time she was first hired, but reneged once she actually retired, the woman alleges in a federal complaint.
     Mary Gomez began working for Kaiser in 1981 and elected to accept a voluntary severance package to leave the company in 1995 while Kaiser underwent a major reorganization.
     Gomez briefly went to work for Sutter Health before founding her own health care consulting business, G&R Healthcare Associates. Kaiser, Sutter Health and Med Partners were among her clients.
     The business was successful and growing when Kaiser contacted her through senior counsel Mary Parks, who offered her a $65,000 salary to come back. Gomez initially declined, but accepted a second offer that included the reinstatement of the original benefits package she received in 1981.
     In 2004, she was promoted to Healthcare Ombudsman/Mediator. In 2011, she decided to retire, but says was surprised to hear Kaiser had no intention of making good on its earlier promise to honor her retirement benefits package.
     Gomez’ retirement was delayed, and then she was "told for the first time her original hire date would not be honored because she had more than a two-year gap in employment. As a result … [she] was denied benefits, including but not limited to medical benefits for her and her spouse, and life insurance,” according to the compliant.
     She was not prepared for the news.
     “Gomez was shocked by Kaiser’s position. Gomez folded her growing company and accepted a $25,000 a year reduction in pay solely because she was promised (verbally and in writing) that she would receive retirement benefits based on her original date of hire. After 30 years of dedicated service, Gomez was denied the benefits she earned,” the complaint states.
     She is suing for wrongful denial of Employee Retirement Income Security Act benefits, fraud, negligent misrepresentation, promissory estoppel and estoppel by conduct. She wants her retirement benefits fully restored, and seeks compensatory and punitive damages, on top of statutory penalties.
     Mark Thomas of Brownstein Thomas, in San Francisco, represents the plaintiff.