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Union Official Convicted of Embezzling May Not Be Forced to Repay with Pension

January 17, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Supreme Court ruled today that a union official convicted of embezzling may not be forced to repay the union with his own pension benefits.

The court unanimously threw out a $275,000 judgment won by the Sheet Metal Workers International Association against Curtis Guidry, former chief executive officer of the union’s Local 9 in Denver.

Guidry, head of the local from 1964 to 1981, pleaded guilty in 1982 to embezzling more than $377,000 from the union.

The union said it was missing nearly $1 million of its funds.

While Guidry was in prison, the union sued in federal court and was awarded $275,000.

A federal judge ordered Guidry’s pension benefits placed in a special trust to repay the union, and the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling.

But the Supreme Court today said the federal Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) protects the pension benefits of even dishonest union officials.

Justice Harry A. Blackmun, writing for the court, said the law ″reflects a considered congressional policy choice ... to safeguard a stream of income for pensioners ... even if that decision prevents others from securing relief for the wrongs done them.″

″There may be a natural distaste for the result we reach here,″ Blackmun said. But it is the job of Congress and not the courts to correct it.

The high court also rejected arguments by the union that Guidry should be forced to reimburse it because he also had been a trustee of the union’s pension fund.

Guidry was convicted of stealing only from the union, not the pension funds, and only the union obtained the court judgment against him, Blackmun said. The pension funds and the union are ″distinct legal entities,″ he added.

The Bush administration urged the court to rule in Guidry’s favor.

The case is Guidry vs. Sheet Metal Workers, 88-1105.

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