View From McDermott: Fifth Circuit Focuses on Process in ESOP Valuations

Though the Supreme Court’s 2014 unanimous ruling in Fifth Third Bank v. Dudenhoeffer announced the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) standards for stock valuation in the context of a large public employee stock ownership plan (ESOP), the vast majority of ESOPs are still grappling with valuation issues. ESOPs that hold stock of closely-held corporations—approximately 90% of all ESOPs— remain almost unaffected by Dudenhoeffer’s valuation discussions, and face continued scrutiny by the Department of Labor (DOL). Appraisal of closely-held stock is an inexact science that involves an inherent level of uncertainty in assessing a variety of potential fact patterns.

This article summarizes valuation issues in acquisitions of closely-held corporation stock by ESOPs in the context of Perez v. Bruister, a recently decided Fifth Circuit case. The case stressed the importance of ‘‘process’’ in valuation determinations being utilized for acquisitions of a corporation’s stock by an ESOP. In reviewing the case, this article provides a detail of the process that should be followed to ensure consideration of the appropriate factors by fiduciaries in reviewing valuations for ESOP transactions. The article concludes with a discussion of guidance provided by the court in Bruister that may be instructive as to best practices for ESOP fiduciaries charged with establishing the value to be used by an ESOP holding shares of stock of a private company.

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DOL Significantly Increases Some Penalties for ERISA Violations

The US Department of Labor increased the penalties for specified violations of the Employee Income Retirement Security Act of 1974.  Most of the penalty increases involve reporting and disclosure failures related to benefit plans and will be effective for penalties assessed after August 1, 2016, if the violation occurred after November 1, 2015.

Under the Federal Civil Monetary Penalties Inflation Adjustment Act Improvements Act of 2015 (2015 Inflation Adjustment Act), the US Department of Labor (DOL) increased the penalties for specified violations of the Employee Income Retirement Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), published in an interim final rule (IFR). Most of the penalty increases involve reporting and disclosure failures related to benefit plans. After the 45-day comment period on the IFR lapses, the DOL will publish final regulations.

Penalty Adjustments for Inflation

The IFR adjusts ERISA reporting and disclosure penalties for inflation. The IFR’s adjustments apply only to penalties assessed after August 1, 2016, if the violation occurred after November 2, 2015. If the violation occurred on or before November 2, 2015, the current penalty amounts apply.

Annual Penalty Adjustments for Inflation

The 2015 Inflation Adjustment Act directs the DOL to adjust penalties annually for inflation. Beginning in 2017, DOL will adjust penalty amounts no later than January 15 of each year. By January 15, 2017, DOL will adjust penalty amounts to reflect any increase in inflation that occurred between October 2015 and October 2016. Future annual inflation adjustments are not subject to regulatory notice and rulemaking requirements. The DOL will post any changes to penalty amounts on its website.

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Same-Sex Marriage Is Legal in All 50 States: So What Now?

Now that same-sex marriage is legal in all 50 states, most benefits plans will treat same-sex spouses the same as opposite-sex spouses. But several tricky issues remain. For example, what if an employer with religious beliefs wants to continue to exclude same-sex spouses from receiving benefits under its retirement plans? Or its medical and dental plans? Are employers that deny coverage vulnerable to sexual orientation and/or sex discrimination lawsuits under state and local law or to federal Title VII lawsuits? What has the EEOC said about this issue? In addition, should employers consider dropping benefits for unmarried partners? Is the answer different if the employer’s plans cover both same-sex and unmarried opposite-sex partners?

The following presentation highlights some of these considerations.

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Integration of Technology Into Health Care Delivery

The integration of technology into health care delivery is exploding throughout the health industry landscape. Commentators speculating on the implications of the information revolution’s penetration of the health care industry envision delivery models rivaling those imagined by celebrated science fiction authors, and claim that the integration of information technology into even the most basic health care delivery functions can reduce cost, increase access, improve quality and, in some instances, fundamentally change the way health care is delivered.

These visions are difficult to refute in the abstract; the technology exists or is being developed to achieve what just a few years ago seemed the idle speculation of futurists. But delivering this vision in an industry as regulated as health care is significantly harder than it may seem. While digital health models have existed for many years, the regulatory and reimbursement environment have stifled their evolution into fully integrated components of the health care delivery system.

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New York and San Francisco Approve Mandatory Paid Family Leave

Both the State of New York and the City of San Francisco recently granted paid family leave to eligible employees. Paid family leave becomes effective on January 1, 2017, in San Francisco and on January 1, 2018, in New York.

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Brexit Update: UK Employment Law Implications

Don’t panic. The United Kingdom will continue to be an EU Member State until procedures are completed for exiting the European Union, which is likely to be at least two years. Until a withdrawal agreement is reached, EU laws and treaties will still apply, including the right for EU nationals to work in the United Kingdom. This means that all current EU-derived employment laws should remain in place for at least two years.

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German Statutory Minimum Wage May Include Vacation and Christmas Bonuses

On May 25, 2016, the German Federal Labor Court confirmed a decision of the State Labor Court Berlin-Brandenburg (reference number: 5 AZR 135/16) regarding the statutory minimum wage in Germany.  The German Federal Labor court confirmed that, under certain conditions, vacation and Christmas bonuses may also be considered when determining if an employer pays his employees the statutory minimum wage in Germany.  This was the first time that the German Federal Labor Court had considered this issue.  Continue Reading

Compensation and Proxy Litigation and the Latest Delaware Cases

The 2016 proxy season continues to illustrate that compensation issues remain at the forefront, especially where companies have activist investors. Private companies considering going public must wrestle with decreasing valuations, tax issues, stockholder litigation, and Delaware law. Litigation on compensation-related matters continues to evolve, requiring a firm grasp of Delaware law and past and current disclosure practices.

In the following presentation, Andrew Liazos, partner at McDermott Will & Emery, provides an overview of Delaware corporate law as well as analysis of the latest Delaware cases shaping executive compensation practice.

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New Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act Guidance from the DOL

The US Department of Labor (DOL) has provided guidance on health plan provisions that could trigger a violation of the Paul Wellstone and Pete Domenici Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act of 2008 (MHPAEA), as amended by the Affordable Care Act. The DOL provided particular examples broken down by categories of plan provisions relating to coverage of mental health (MH)/substance use disorder (SUD) benefits which should trigger careful analysis of coverage for medical (med)/surgical med/surg) benefits to ensure compliance with the MHPAEA’s provisions regarding parity of non-quantitative treatment.

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