The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) established certain rights and protections for employee benefit plan participants. In Edwards v. A.H. Cornell & Son, Inc., the Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit considered whether Section 510—ERISA’s anti-retaliation, or “whistleblower,” provision—protected from termination employees who make unsolicited internal complaints about their employer’s ERISA violations. In a matter of first impression, the court held that Section 510 does not protect employees who voluntarily complain to their superiors about the employer’s ERISA violations outside the context of an “inquiry” or “proceeding,” and, in so doing, split with several of its sister circuits.
In March 2006, Shirley Edwards began working at A.H. Cornell and Son, Inc. (Cornell), a family-owned construction company, as its Director of Human Resources. She participated in Cornell’s group health plan, which fell under ERISA’s purview. After discovering what she believed to be multiple ERISA violations committed by Cornell, Edwards notified her supervisor of the violations and her objections to them. Cornell terminated Edwards shortly thereafter, an action Edwards believed was a direct result of her complaints about the alleged ERISA violations. . .