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 presentation.

In an Information Letter dated February 27, 2019, the Department of Labor (DOL) clarified that an ERISA plan must include any procedures for designating authorized representatives in the plan’s claims procedure and summary plan description (SPD) or in a separate document that accompanies the SPD. In response to a request by a patient advocate and health care claim recovery expert for plan participants and beneficiaries, the DOL reiterated that the claims procedure regulations permit authorized representatives to receive notifications in connections with an ERISA plan’s claim and appeal determinations, and noted that a plan’s claims procedure cannot prevent claimants from choosing who will act as their representative for purposes of a claim and/or appeal. ERISA plan sponsors should review plan documents to ensure that the applicable documents clearly outline any steps a participant or beneficiary must take to validly designate an authorized representative under the plan.

The District of Massachusetts court struck the plaintiffs’ jury-trial demand in their ERISA complaint for damages and equitable relief against 401(k) plan fiduciaries. The court followed the “great weight of authority” in ruling that there is no right to trial by jury in ERISA actions for breach of fiduciary duty.

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Join us on March 7 in Chicago for our annual Benefits Emerging Leaders Working Group, which provides benefit professionals with tools to better serve employees in an ever-changing benefits landscape.

Our presentations will tackle the latest benefits hot topics and best practice solutions and will be supplemented with important networking opportunities aimed to connect tomorrow’s benefit leaders with a broad network of professionals.

Speakers from The Art Institute of Chicago, Alera Group Inc. and McDermott will lead interactive discussions around a range of topics, including:

  • Affordable Care Act (ACA) Penalties – Marketplace Letters
  • Investment Committee Meetings – Red Flags and Best Practices
  • Developments in Parental and Caregiver Leaves – A Case Study Approach
  • Legislative Rundown – What’s Happening in Washington
  • Around the Horn – A Group Discussion

Register Now.

Several large employers are disputing how much money the New York Times owes a union multiemployer pension fund. Recently, six companies—including US Foods Inc. and United Natural Foods Inc.—filed an amicus brief supporting the New York Times in its case before the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Ruprecht Co., an Illinois meat processor, also filed its own brief in support of the New York Times.

Under the Employer Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), when determining an employer’s withdrawal liability, the actuarial assumptions and methods must “offer the actuary’s best estimate of the anticipated experience under the plan.” The underlying issue in this case involves an actuarial method called the “Segal Blend,” which often is used to value unfunded vested benefits and calculate withdrawal liability (an exit fee) from a union multiemployer pension plan. Under the Segal Blend, the actuary blends the multiemployer plan’s assumed interest rate on investments with a lower interest rate used by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation for terminating plans. Many multiemployer pension plans commonly use the Segal Blend to calculate an employer’s unfunded liability and payment upon exiting the multiemployer plan (known as “withdrawal liability”). These large employers claim that using the Segal Blend results in an artificially lower interest rate, which in turn results in larger employer withdrawal liability and larger amounts an employer must pay to exit the multiemployer pension plan.

Continue Reading Piling On: Corporations Support the New York Times in Multiemployer Pension Calculation Dispute

Recently, the US District Court for the District of Columbia dismissed a proposed class action lawsuit brought by former Georgetown employees under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) over fees and investments in its two retirement plans. Plaintiffs alleged that Georgetown breached its fiduciary duty of prudence under ERISA by selecting and retaining investment options with excessive administrative fees and expenses charged to the plans, and unnecessarily retained three recordkeepers rather than one.

The court dismissed most of the claims on the grounds that plaintiffs had not plead sufficient facts showing that they had individually suffered an injury. Because they challenged defined contribution plans (as opposed to defined benefit plans), the plaintiffs had to plead facts showing how their individual plan accounts were harmed. In this case, the named plaintiffs had not invested in the challenged funds, or the challenged fund had actually outperformed other funds, or, in the case of the early withdrawal penalty from the annuity fund, the penalty had been properly disclosed and neither plaintiff had attempted to withdrawal funds – thereby suffering no injury. Moreover, in dismissing the allegations that the Plans included annuities that limited participants’ access to their contributed funds, the court rejoined, “[i]f a cat were a dog, it could bark. If a retirement plan were not based on long-term investments in annuities, its assets would be more immediately accessed by plan participants.” As to another fund, the court rejected the claim that the fiduciaries should be liable for the mere alleged underperformance of the fund, noting that “ERISA does not provide a cause of action for ‘underperforming funds.” Nor is a fiduciary required to select the best performing fund. A fiduciary must only discharge their duties with care, skill, prudence and diligence under the circumstances, when they make their decisions.

Continue Reading Georgetown University Defeats Retirement Plan Fee Litigation and “If a Cat Were a Dog, It Would Bark”

In late December, US Senator Ron Wyden introduced the Retirement Parity for Student Loans Act (Student Loan Act), which would allow employers to make matching contributions under 401(k), 403(b) and SIMPLE plans with respect to student loan repayments made by employees. If enacted, this legislation would provide powerful new guidance for employers looking to offer student-loan-repayment-related benefits to their employees.

Last year, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) released a groundbreaking private letter ruling (PLR) that helped to clear the way for employers to begin providing student loan repayment benefits as part of their 401(k) plans. More specifically, the PLR confirmed that, under certain circumstances, employers might be able to link the amount of employer contributions made on an employee’s behalf under a 401(k) plan to the amount of student loan repayments made by the employee outside the plan. However, the PLR only applied to the plan sponsor requesting the ruling and only addressed the specific issue and facts presented by the plan sponsor. As a result, although the PLR provided helpful guidance to employers, it also left many questions unanswered.

In response, many employers and industry groups have pushed for legislation that provides comprehensive guidance on how employers can and should structure student loan repayment benefits under their retirement plans. The Student Loan Act would address a number of the questions raised in response to the PLR and would provide employers more flexibility to offer student loan repayment benefits under their plans. In particular, the Student Loan Act would open the door for student loan repayments to be treated as elective deferrals under an employer’s plan and to qualify for corresponding matching contributions (rather than the special non-elective contributions described in the PLR). In addition, the Student Loan Act would clarify nondiscrimination testing requirements for student loan repayment benefits and address how student loan repayment benefits may be provided under not only traditional 401(k) plans, but also under safe harbor 401(k) plans, 403(b) plans and SIMPLE plans.

The Student Loan Act is part of the broader Retirement Security & Savings Act, which has bipartisan backing. The prospects for enactment of the Student Loan Act and Retirement Security & Savings Act are uncertain. Nevertheless, the release of the Student Loan Act, and its inclusion as part of the Retirement Security & Savings Act, shows that legislators are responding to employer demand and industry group efforts to seek further clarification on how they can provide employees with student loan repayment benefits under their tax-qualified retirement plans.

Late last year, the Ninth Circuit held that in order to trigger ERISA’s three-year statute of limitations a defendant must demonstrate that a plaintiff has actual knowledge of the nature of an alleged breach. Accordingly, the court held that merely having access to documents describing an alleged breach of fiduciary duty is not sufficient to cause ERISA’s statute of limitations to begin to run. Instead, the court rejected the standard embraced by other courts and ruled that participants should not be charged with knowledge of documents they were provided by did not actually read. The Ninth Circuit’s decision underscores circuit split over what is sufficient to demonstrate the existence of actual knowledge for purposes of triggering ERISA’s three-year statute of limitations.

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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. 

In certain cases of a facility sale, restructuring or cessation, recently released information by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) leaves many unanswered questions about plan sponsor liability for single-employer defined benefit plans. Given the lack of clarity, these plan sponsors should continue to consult their lawyer in any type of transaction, restructuring or cessation that approaches a 15 percent demographic change in a plan sponsor’s controlled group over a three-year period.

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