You or I see a UPS truck and think, “Great! A delivery!” (Or, “I can’t believe he parked his truck there!”)
Sharon Carpenter sees a UPS truck and probably thinks, “What that company did to my brother is despicable.”
Sharon is a longtime Westporter. Her brother — Brian O’Shea — got a job with UPS during college, and never left. He worked his way up the management ranks, doing important undercover theft work up and down the East Coast.
In late 2008 he was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. He kept working through brutal chemo. In fact, he used vacation days for treatment. When his supervisor encouraged him to take disability leave, he refused. His motto: “I live for my work.”
In December 2009 — after more than 36 years of service — Brian decided to retire. His oncologist told him his time was very limited. He’d lost over 50 pounds, weighing just 115.
He was 55, and fully vested in UPS retirement.
UPS Employee Services told him if he worked at all in January, he’d be entitled to his full yearly allotment of vacation days. A representative suggested a last day of actual work: January 8, 2010. Adding 6 weeks vacation and 5 personal days, his “retirement date” would be February 28.
“Brian was so proud when he signed the paperwork UPS sent in December,” Sharon recalls. “He was very happy, knowing UPS would take care of his 4 children after he died. They each would receive a monthly stipend for 10 years. That would be a life-changer for them. He had total belief in UPS, and was so dedicated to them.”
On February 12, Brian sat with his lawyer; Sharon; Sharon’s husband Sam (the trustee for his will), and his oldest child (the executor), to discuss his assets and obligations. He was so glad he had opted to take his pension as a “single life annuity with 10-year payment guarantee.” He emphasized the word “guarantee.”
Brian died February 21.
A thousand people attended Sharon’s brother’s wake. UPS was “great,” she says. They gave a lump sum payment, and kept in touch with the family. An HR rep told Sharon that monthly retirement payments would go to his family.
A month later, the same woman called. She told Sharon to expect a check for $100,000. It was Brian’s “death benefit.”
Sharon thought that was good news. Her voice cracking, the HR woman said, “It’s instead of retirement.” That retirement fund was about $500,000.
“Someone in Atlanta headquarters said that because he died 7 days before he officially retired, he was still an employee,” Sharon explains. “So he was not entitled to retirement pay.”
But, she says, when Brian was told to work 1 day in January, to be eligible for vacation and personal days, “everyone knew he was dying. He’d lost 65 pounds. He looked terrible. It was clear he wouldn’t make it all the way.”
No one, Sharon says, told Brian — and nowhere in the papers he reviewed was it mentioned — that he risked his pension by delaying retirement until February 28.
Sharon is a calm woman, but her voice grows steely. “Retirement is not a bonus. My brother put money into it for 37 years. This was something he earned. It’s all his family has.”
The family appealed through all the proper UPS steps. Each time, they were denied. “We’ve been at it for 4 years,” Sharon says. “They probably didn’t think we’d follow through.”
Finally, they hired a lawyer. It was not easy. “It took a month to find someone in Boston who was not already on retainer to UPS,” Sharon says.
The company has asked that the case be dismissed. A judge will rule soon.
“I can’t believe we’re the only people this happened to,” Sharon says.
“We’ve tried to do the right thing, step by step. We’ve dotted every ‘i,’ and crossed every ‘t.’ Now, we want people to know what’s going on.”