Chemical Banking Corp. is making amends to some employees who were nearly eligible for retirement benefits when they were laid off because of Chemical's merger with Manufacturers Hanover Corp.

In a letter to more than 50 employees laid off between July 15 and Dec. 31, 1991, Chemicals offered to increase the value of accrued pension benefits by 10% and to extend free life insurance benefits. The benefits match those given several hundred people who participated in a voluntary retirement program this year.

Recipients were told they would have been eligible for retirement benefits if they had managed to keep working at the bank for 12 to 18 months more. (The old Chemical offered such benefits to employees who left at age 50 with 15 years'service: Hanover, to those age 55 with 10 year's service. Today, it's the worst of both; employees 55 years old and with 15 years of continuous service are eligible.)

Was Chemical's gesture stimulated by fear of age-discrimination lawsuits?

No, a Chemical official insisted. "We thought it was fair. It was a question of equity."

However, the 50 to 75 employees who got the unexpected benefit bonanza signed releases barring them from suing Chemical or filing claims under the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967. Such release forms are fairly standard in layoffs.

As to whether any employee has sued Chemical for a merger-related reason, the official said: "We have no comment."

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