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Vastoler v. American Can Co.

decided: February 23, 1983.


Appeal from the United States District Court for the District of New Jersey.

Gibbons, Higginbotham and Becker, Circuit Judges. Becker, Circuit Judge, concurring.

Author: Higginbotham



Appellant brought this action claiming that he was entitled to greater pension benefits than he was receiving from appellee's pension plan for employees. The issue in this underlying action is the proper period of service on which appellant's pension benefits were to be calculated. The district court granted appellee's motion for summary judgment, but because we find a genuine dispute as to material facts we will reverse and remand the case to the district court.


Soloman A. Vastoler was employed by American Can Company for periods of years of varying duration from 1937 to his retirement at age 59 on December 31, 1978. Except for three years of military service, he worked as an hourly employee from 1937 to 1946, from 1947 to 1952 and from 1958 to 1963.

In April 1963 the Company promoted Vastoler from an hourly lithographer to a salaried supervisor. The company initiated the promotion, and Vastoler reluctantly accepted it. His acceptance was conditioned primarily on the Company's promise to give him full credit for his past service to the Company for the purposes of determining his pension benefits. Under the terms of the pension plan, his years of service prior to 1958 would not have counted. Nor would these years have counted towards his other fringe benefits. A secondary condition of acceptance was full credit for past service for the determination of Vastoler's other fringe benefits.

The difference between the monthly pension payments Vastoler is receiving and those he claims he is entitled to receive is significant. On the basis of his continuous service from 1958 his monthly benefit to age 62 would be $656.14; and after 62 it would decrease to $580.20 per month. Based on continuous service from 1937 Vastoler's monthly benefit would be $875.23 from the time he retired. The difference in monthly payments is $219.09 to age 62 and $367.03 at and after age 62.

The Company denies that it promised Vastoler full credit for past service from 1937 to 1962 for purposes of his Salaried Retirement Plan. However, an introcompany memo from the plant manager, Joe Choborda, who negotiated the promotion with Vastoler supports Vastoler's testimony. In the memo requesting authorization to give Vastoler credit for his past service, the plant manager stated:

At the time we interviewed this employee for the promotion we discussed with him the various benefits, etc., in regard to becoming a salaried employee. Unfortunately, we miscalculated his accredited service and indicated to him that according to our records, he had sixteen (16) years of accredited service. We overlooked the fact that he had a break in service during the years 1953 to 1956, approximately four (4) years, which resulted that his true accredited service was only 5 years and 6 months. The fact that we committed ourselves to him as having sixteen (16) years of accredited service, entitled him to three (3) weeks vacation, and in another four (4) years, he would be receiving four (4) weeks vacation. We also discussed with him the Survivorship Benefit Program, to which he would be eligible in approximately nine (9) years.

Appendix (App.) at 467. The manager noted that "it was necessary that we [the company] sell him [Vastoler] on all the benefits because from a financial standpoint of view, initially, he [Vastoler] was not benefitting by this promotion . . . ." Id. The Company granted Vastoler credit for past service for all fringe benefits except his pension. The district court assumed "that the Company made the promise to Vastoler and that Vastoler was not informed that his service period for pension purposes ran from July 1958 and not March 1937." App. at 452. It nevertheless granted the Company's motion for summary judgment. Vastoler appeals from the district court's order granting summary judgment to American Can Company.


The trial court may grant summary judgment if it determines from the pleadings and evidence that no genuine issue as to a material fact remains for trial. The scope of review of an order granting summary judgment under Rule 56 was explained in Goodman v. Mead Johnson & Co., 534 F.2d 566, 573 (3d ...

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