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SCOTUS Holds Proof of ‘Actual Knowledge’ Required Under ERISA Statute of Limitations

The US Supreme Court handed workers a big win by preserving a six-year deadline to file ERISA class actions as the standard, but employers have already seized on language in Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion as a road map for how to impose a shorter deadline.

Justice Alito ended the unanimous opinion—which affirmed the Ninth Circuit’s ruling that ERISA grants workers six years to sue except under special circumstances—by listing several tactics employers can use to invoke a three-year statute of limitations.

McDermott’s Richard Pearl contributes to a Law360 article discussing the decision, including how employers should respond.

Access the full article.

Originally published on Law360, February 2020

See Richard Pearl’s January 2019 On the Subject on this case: Ninth Circuit Clarifies ‘Actual Knowledge’ for ERISA’s Statute of Limitations




Addressing Employees’ Student Loan Debt in 2020

Student loan debt skyrocketed in the past decade, topping $1.5 trillion among millions of Americans. The crisis has prompted US employers to address it in their benefits programs.

McDermott’s Jeffrey M. Holdvogt contributes to a Plan Sponsor article that provides a review of how employers can help employees break free from the bind student loan debt has on financial wellbeing and retirement savings.

Access the full article.

Originally published on Plan Sponsor, December 2019




The Biggest ERISA Decisions of 2019

In a relatively slow year for benefits rulings, multimillion-dollar settlements were the star of the show. And amid the slew of settlements this year, two court rulings stood out.

McDermott’s Richard J. Pearl contributes to a Law360 article that breaks down the Ninth Circuit ruling allowing benefit plan managers to force fiduciary-breach suits into solo arbitration and the Tenth Circuit holding that insurers who determine workers’ profits from 401(k) investments aren’t fiduciaries.

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Originally published by Law360, December 2019




Ninth Circuit Decides Not to Rehear Its Decision Requiring Arbitration of ERISA Claims

As we wrote in a previous On the Subject, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had signaled that it might rehear its August 2019 decisions in Dorman v. The Charles Schwab Corp., in which the Court compelled arbitration of ERISA class-action claims relating to a 401(k) plan. After ordering additional briefing, however, the Ninth Circuit denied the plaintiff’s petition for rehearing, leaving the Court’s decisions unchanged and requiring the plaintiff to arbitrate his ERISA breach-of-fiduciary-duty claims.

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First Circuit Holds Defendants Have Burden to Negate Loss Causation in ERISA Fiduciary Duty Cases

The US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has solidified a circuit split on who has burden of proving loss causation in ERISA breach of fiduciary duty cases. The First Circuit joined the Fourth, Fifth and Eighth Circuits holding that once a plaintiff demonstrates a fiduciary breach, the defendant has the burden to negate loss causation. Other circuits, including the Sixth, Ninth, Tenth and Eleventh Circuits, have held that a plaintiff bears to burden to establish loss causation. This issue is ripe for Supreme Court review.

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Webinar | Employer Options for Student Loan Benefits

Join us Friday, October 5 for our monthly Fridays with Benefits webinar on employer options for student loan benefits. Student loan debt is an increasingly significant concern for employees and student loan benefits are becoming an increasingly significant way for employers to attract and retain key talent.

Join members of the McDermott Benefits Team for a discussion on employer options and strategies for employee student loan benefits that your company won’t want to miss! We will address refinancing options, direct financial assistance, and developments in retirement plan designs for benefits tied to student loan repayments.

Friday, October 5, 2018
10:00 – 10:45 am PDT
11:00 – 11:45 am MDT
12:00 – 12:45 pm CDT
1:00 – 1:45 pm EDT

Register now.




Groundbreaking IRS Ruling Helps Clear the Way for New 401(k) Plan Student Loan Benefits

On Friday, the IRS released a private letter ruling (PLR) which will help clear the way for employers to provide a new type of student loan repayment benefit as part of their 401(k) plans. By issuing the PLR, the IRS gave its blessing to an employer-provided student loan repayment benefit offered through an employer’s 401(k) plan. Historically, many plan sponsors had questioned whether such an approach would be permissible under IRS rules. As a result, the PLR provides welcome confirmation that such an arrangement is permissible under certain circumstances.

Generally speaking, the PLR confirmed that, under certain circumstances, employers may 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. More specifically, as explained in our On the Subject published on Friday, the IRS concluded that an employer could make a non-elective contribution to its 401(k) plan where the amount of the non-elective contribution would be based on an employee’s total student loan repayments and would be contributed to the plan in lieu of the matching contributions that would otherwise be made to the plan had the employee made pre-tax, Roth 401(k) or after-tax contributions.

Because student loan benefit programs are becoming an increasingly powerful way for employers to attract and retain key talent, particularly employers with a young and educated workforce, the PLR will very likely cause many employers to consider offering a student loan benefit as part of their retirement program. Importantly, employers who wish to do so should take care to review their 401(k) plans for special rules, features or design elements (outside those discussed in the PLR) that might create additional hurdles to linking 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. For example, some of the special rules that apply to safe harbor plans could limit an employer’s ability to create a similar student loan benefit structure.

For more information about this groundbreaking ruling, including the key features of the student loan benefit program described in the PLR, the advantages of such programs and other important considerations, please see our On the Subject published on Friday.




M&A Webinar Series Part II: The Due Diligence Process

There are many different types of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) transactions, making it very important to understand the overall deal structure and process. Andrew C. Liazos presented “Mergers and Acquisitions Webinar Series Part 2: The Due Diligence Process” for the CLE Program as part of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits and the American College of Employee Benefits Counsel. He discussed the overall architecture of a deal, including the parties involved, what drives the deal structure, where to get data, price negotiations and more. The presentation focused on specific M&A areas including pension, other retirement and executive benefits.

View the full presentation.




Considerations in Designing Severance Plans and Arrangements for Tax-Exempt Organizations

There are numerous reasons why organizations exempt from taxation under Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c) (3), as amended (the “Code” and, such organizations, “Tax-Exempt Entities”) may offer severance payments to employees who incur involuntary terminations of employment. For example, severance that is conditioned on the departing employee’s execution of a release of claims in favor of the Tax-Exempt Entity can reduce the likelihood of costly and burdensome litigation. Similarly, payment of severance may reduce the risk of negative publicity for the Tax-Exempt Entity by diminishing resentment felt by departing employees. Severance may also help retain existing employees by providing them with a measure of economic security that can dissuade them from seeking alternative employment, particularly if they suspect that the Tax-Exempt Entity has encountered budgetary shortfalls and may be implementing near-term workforce reductions. For these and other reasons, many Tax-Exempt Entities have either implemented or are considering implementing severance programs. Tax-Exempt Entities should be aware of unique opportunities and recent IRS regulations that impact the design of severance programs. This article discusses key decisions and planning opportunities for Tax-Exempt Entities to consider when designing and implementing severance plans and individual severance arrangements. Tax-Exempt Entities face a number of legal and regulatory challenges in establishing severance arrangements, particularly with respect to executive-level severance, as discussed in more detail in Part I. Part II discusses the legal parameters around using Code Section 403(b) retirement savings plans to offer severance to employees with lower levels of compensation.

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