Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs)
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It Could Happen to You: Tips for Acing a Benefit Plan Audit

Over the past several years, the IRS and DOL have significantly increased the number of benefit plans audits conducted each year. As a result, it is important for plan sponsors to understand the types of issues that often arise in connection with such audits. At the recent PSCA 2019 National Conference, Brian Tiemann explained what plan sponsors should expect if their benefit plan is selected for audited. More specifically, Brian discussed the ways audits are typically triggered and how to respond when a plan is audited. In addition, Brian outlined some of the most common retirement and health and welfare compliance issues identified in plan audits. He also discussed how plan sponsors can prepare for audits and even address potential compliance issues before they occur. View the full presentation.

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US Supreme Court to Review Unusual Second Circuit Decision in Stock Drop Case Against IBM

On Monday, the US Supreme Court agreed to review the Second Circuit’s decision in Jander v. Retirement Plans Committee of IBM, a “stock drop” lawsuit against IBM’s benefit plan fiduciaries. The Second Circuit’s decision marked one of the few times a federal court permitted a “stock drop” lawsuit to survive dismissal since the Supreme Court’s decisions in Fifth Third Bank v. Dudenhoeffer (2012) and Harris v. Amgen (2016). Together, the Dudenhoeffer and Amgen decisions set a high pleading bar for plaintiffs who file “stock drop” claims. These lawsuits involve employee stock ownership plans, in which the plan includes employer stock as an investment option, and a subsequent drop in that stock’s price. Plaintiffs allege that by failing to remove the stock from the plan or take other corrective action (such as disclosing information), fiduciaries breached the prudent person standard of care that ERISA imposes on fiduciaries. Dudenhoeffer requires plaintiffs to...

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Former Employee’s Release Agreement Bars ERISA Claim Against ESOP Fiduciary

A recent summary-judgment decision explains how individual releases can bar the individual from pursuing ERISA fiduciary-breach claims on behalf of the plan. A plan, employer or fiduciary that wants to ensure a release that includes ERISA claims on behalf of a plan should consider language that addresses the court’s areas of inquiry in the case, which are outlined in this article. Access the full article.

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Selling a Family or Multi-Shareholder Business to an ESOP

In a presentation for the National Center for Employee Ownership (NCEO) Conference, Erin Turley presented on selling a family of multi-shareholder business to an ESOP. She discussed ownership transition alternatives and how to execute the ESOP transaction. Below are a few key takeaways from the presentation. A multi-shareholder-owned company should not be a deterrent selling to an ESOP Communicating with the shareholder group is key Legal procedures must be followed to ensure all shareholders are informed View the full presentation.

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ESOPs: What Not To Do (and If You Did, How to Correct It)

In a presentation for the National Center for Employee Ownership (NCEO) Conference, Emily Rickard presented on ESOP plan design, operation and administration. She, along with the other presenters, identified ERISA compliance watchdogs including the plaintiff’s bar, Department of Treasury and Department of Labor, and what attracts their attention when it comes to audits. Emily also identified common mistakes employers make during the entire ESOP lifecycle (e.g. lack of employee communication, distribution strategy and planning) and provided guidance on how to correct those mistakes. View the full presentation.

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ERISA Plan Controversy | Rising Stakes for Those Unprepared

In a presentation at McDermott’s Employment and Employee Benefits Forum, Ted Becker and Chris Scheithauer explored the various ways that disgruntled employees file lawsuits with plaintiffs’’ lawyers. Lawsuits have been brought in cases alleging, imprudence in the management of plans, challenging fees, involving company stock, actuarial equivalence and more. They used recent cases such as, NYU, American Century Services and IBM, as examples of the various types of lawsuits and the important lessons employers can take away from them. In addition, they provided attendees with key strategies to minimize exposure to lawsuits, including demonstrating a thoughtful and deliberative decision-making process. Looking ahead to 2019, they touched on ERISA issues to watch for including, venue/forum selection clauses in plan documents, arbitration agreements and impact on fiduciary duty claims, statute of limitations and burden of proof issues. View the full...

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Fridays With Benefits Webinar | ERISA Litigation – Are You Bullet-Proofed for the Inevitable?

What to expect in 2019 and how to prepare now. Join McDermott lawyers Judith Wethall, Ted Becker and Rick Pearl for an interactive discussion regarding ERISA litigation trends. Join our lively 45-minute discussion while we tackle the following items: Plaintiffs’ law firm’s solicitations Health & Welfare Fee Litigation Defined-Benefit Plan Litigation – Actuarial Equivalence lawsuits and greater concern about discretionary decisions Stock-Drop Cases – The Jander decision: Relaxing the Dudenhoeffer standard and the potential impact of a stock market decline 401k/403b – Fee/investment update ESOP transactions – New DOL and plaintiffs’ counsel’s theories Friday, January 11, 2019 10:00 – 10:45 am PST 11:00 – 11:45 am MST 12:00 – 12:45 pm CST 1:00 – 1:45 pm EST Register now. 

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Circuit Split Remains Unresolved After ERISA Case Settles

On September 20, 2018, the US Supreme Court dismissed—pursuant to settlement—an ERISA lawsuit that could have resolved the circuit split over who holds the burden of proof in ERISA breach of fiduciary duty cases. In Pioneer Centres Hold. v. Alerus Fin., Case No. 17-677 (2018), the Pioneer Centres Holding Company Employee Stock Ownership Plan and Trust (the “Plan” or “ESOP”) and its trustees sued Alerus Financial, N.A. (Alerus) for breach of fiduciary duty in connection with the failure of a proposed employee stock purchase. In affirming summary judgment in Alerus’s favor, the Tenth Circuit determined that the Plan carried the burden to prove causation rather than shifting the burden to Alerus to disprove causation once the Plan established a prima facie case. In so holding, the Tenth Circuit agreed with the Sixth, Ninth and Eleventh circuits that beneficiaries, not fiduciaries, must prove causation between the company’s conduct and the plan’s losses due to a...

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Lessons Learned from ESOP-Owned Companies from Recent Litigation

Recent litigation and audit activity is focusing on the process undertaken by fiduciaries in connection with a transaction involving an ESOP. Eliot Burriss presented at the 2018 National Center for Employee Ownership Conference summarizing relevant litigation cases, exploring roles and responsibilities, and providing best practices. View the full presentation.  

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ESOP Fiduciary Responsibility for Value Determination

Emily Rickard presented “ESOP Fiduciary Responsibility for Value Determination” at the National Center for Employee Ownership National Conference addressing the fiduciary duties involved in the selection of an ESOP appraiser and the review of a valuation report. View the full presentation.

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