Northwestern University recently defeated a lawsuit alleging that it violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) while managing its retirement plans. The plaintiffs brought ERISA breach of fiduciary duty and prohibited transaction claims, alleging the university’s retirement plans featured imprudent investments and paid excessive fees. On May 25, 2018, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois dismissed the lawsuit in its entirety and denied the plaintiffs’ motion to amend to add additional counts, finding them futile.
In a 5-4 decision written by newcomer Justice Gorsuch, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld employment agreements that require employees to individually arbitrate disputes with their employers.
The May 21, 2018, opinion in Epic Systems Corp. v. Lewis resolves a trio of cases before the Supreme Court in which employees brought suits against their employers alleging state and federal wage and hour violations. In each situation, the employees had signed contracts agreeing to resolve any employment-related disputes in individualized arbitration. Nevertheless, they sought to litigate their claims in class or collective actions.
The Department of Labor (DOL) recently reiterated its position that plan fiduciaries are not permitted to sacrifice investment return or take additional investment risk to promote “collateral social policy goals.”
The DOL reasoned that environmental, social and governance factors are not typically relevant economic factors that should be used to evaluate investment alternatives. In some situations, when they reflect business risks or opportunities, they can be treated as economic considerations and more than mere tie-breakers. However, ERISA fiduciaries must always put the economic interests of the plan first.
On January 22, 2018, the U.S. Supreme Court requested the Solicitor General’s opinion on whether a plaintiff can simultaneously bring a claim for benefits and a claim for breach of fiduciary duty under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). A request for the view of the Solicitor Generally typically indicates the court’s interest in hearing a case.
The U.S. Supreme Court recently declined to address the issue of whether forum selection clauses are valid and enforceable in plans governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). Three U.S. Courts of Appeals have allowed enforcement of plans’ forum selection clauses.
Effective Jan. 2, 2018, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) simplified the fee structure for its Voluntary Compliance Program. Fees will now be based on the total amount of net plan assets rather than the number of plan participants.
The federal agencies charged with administering the Affordable Care Act released interim final regulations Oct. 6, 2017, that extended the exemption from providing contraceptive coverage to more employers and individuals effective immediately. Days later, the government settled dozens of lawsuits filed by organizations challenging the so-called “contraceptive mandate.” But several new cases challenging the expanded exemption were filed.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit joined the Sixth Circuit in holding that forum selection clauses in plan documents are valid and enforceable under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA).
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has ordered a Mississippi district court judge to reconsider approval of a $150 million settlement deal regarding an underfunded pension plan.
In Jones v. Singing River Health Servs. Found., No. 16-60550, 2017 WL 3178624 (5th Cir. July 27, 2017), Singing River Health Services Foundation (SRHS), a community-owned not-for-profit health system in Jackson County, Mississippi, failed to make contributions to its pension plan between 2009 and 2014, when the hospital board officially froze the plan. The missed contributions exceeded $55 million. When the financially imperiled health system sought to terminate and liquidate the plan, participants initiated a flurry of state and federal lawsuits. The settlement covered three consolidated federal court cases.
Recent Supreme Court decisions permitting class action waivers in arbitration agreements opened the door to the question of whether such an agreement would be enforceable under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA). (See American Express Co. v. Italian Colors Restaurant and AT&T Mobility LLC v. Concepcion.) The wave of class action litigation over 401(k) and 403(b) fees has created a forum for addressing this question, and courts are beginning to provide an answer.