Ex-employee Sues United Tech Over Tuition Program


HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) â¿¿ A former United Technologies Corp. employee is suing the aerospace conglomerate over its tuition program that financed graduate school but laid him off before he could receive company stock included in the program.

Richard A. Grisafi, of Woodcliff Lake, N.J., sued the Hartford, Conn., company on Friday in U.S. District Court in New Jersey. The 31-year-old Grisafi earned a master's degree in mechanical engineering while working at United Technologies' fire and security division.

The stock he should have received is now valued at about $13,000 had a vesting date of Oct. 1, 2013, he said. But he was laid off in 2012 and said he's still looking for a job.

"I hoped I'd get promoted, get raises, move up a little," Grisafi said.

Spokesman Ian Race said United Technologies has not received the lawsuit and would not comment. The Employee Scholar Program, which has spent more than $1 billion for nearly 35,000 degrees earned by employees since it was established in 1996, has been recognized as "one of the most successful and generous corporate education programs in existence," he said.

The program covers the cost of tuition, books and fees and allows employees to study any program at an accredited school regardless of whether the field is related to their jobs. Employees also receive paid time off to study.

Bruce Elliott, manager of compensation and benefits at the Society for Human Resource Management, said the United Technologies program is "very, very unusual" because most companies that provide an education benefit contribute partially and require that employees' schooling be linked to their jobs.

"You wouldn't see that in a lot of Fortune 500 companies much less a defense contractor," he said.

G. Martin Meyers, Grisafi's lawyer, said comparing United Technologies' program with benefits at other companies is irrelevant. The point, he said, is his client's argument that the company failed to keep its agreement to provide company stock.

"It may stack up very well but the fact remains if you're telling people as an inducement to enter this type of program you'll give a stock award why wouldn't you give them what you say you'll give them?" he said.

Grisafi also could use the United Technologies stock to help weather extended unemployment, Meyers said.

United Technologies, which posted revenue of $57.7 billion in 2012, carried out several rounds of layoffs and used other cost-cutting measures during the recession and uneven recovery.

Grisafi, who designed fire-training equipment, said he received no notice before his layoff.

"I didn't even get 15 minutes," he said.

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