Michelle C. Yau is a Partner at Cohen Milstein, and a member of the Firm’s Employee Benefits (ERISA) Practice Group. In her role, Ms. Yau represents the interests of employees, retirees, plan participants or beneficiaries in ERISA cases. Her practice specializes in ERISA cases involving complex financial transactions or actuarial issues. Ms. Yau brings to her practice government experience enforcing labor statutes and a grasp of complex financial instruments gained from her training as a financial analyst. Drawing on those experiences, she is able to fulfill her passion for protecting pension plan participants.

Ms. Yau litigated some of the most significant ERISA lawsuits to emerge from the Madoff Ponzi scheme. In re Beacon Assoc. Litig., she represented a multi-plan class of participants, beneficiaries and fiduciaries, which settled along with other consolidated cases for $219 million in 2013, representing 70% of the Class members’ out-of-pocket losses. The judge praised the settlement, describing the outcome as “extraordinary” and the praising the “hard work” done by plaintiffs’ counsel, including Cohen Milstein. In re Austin Capital Mgmt. Litig., which was settled by the Department of Labor on the ERISA class on very favorable terms, Ms. Yau alleged that Madoff’s returns, based on his advertised investment strategy, were mathematically impossible, a fact Austin Capital ought to have recognized well before the fraud was revealed.

Prior to joining Cohen Milstein in 2007, Ms. Yau was an Honors Program Attorney at the Department of Labor where she enforced and administered of a variety of labor statutes.  Before law school, she worked as a financial analyst at Goldman, Sachs & Co. in the Financial Institutions Group of the Investment Banking Division.  

Ms. Yau is presently litigating a series of church plan lawsuits alleging that health care systems wrongfully claim their benefit plans are exempt from ERISA’s protection. She oversees the day-to-day management of these cases, including coordinating all the aspects of the litigation.

Currently, Ms. Yau is representing clients in the following notable matters:

  • St. Peter’s Health care System Church Plan Litigation: Cohen Milstein is counsel to a class of defined benefit participants in Kaplan v. St. Peter’s Healthcare System, which allege that the hospital’s plan is not a church plan and thus the class is entitled to ERISA’s protections.  In district court, Cohen Milstein succeeded in showing that only a church may establish a church plan and thus St. Peter’s Healthcare System is not entitled to exemption from ERISA.  Cohen Milstein then prevailed in the Third Circuit, which affirmed the district court’s holdings.
  • St. Anthony Medical Center Church Plan Litigation: Cohen Milstein is counsel to a class of defined benefit participants in Owens et al. v. St. Anthony Medical Center et al., which allege that the Medical Center violated numerous provisions of ERISA by improperly operating the plan as exempt from ERISA’s protections.  As a result the class of participants suffered cutbacks as much as 40% of their promised benefits.
  • Trinity Church Plan Litigation: Cohen Milstein is counsel to a class of defined benefit participants in Lann et al. v. Trinity Health, which allege that the hospital’s plan is not a church plan and thus the class is entitled to ERISA’s protections, 
  • Advocate Health Care Church Plan Litigation: Cohen Milstein, along with Keller Rohrback, is counsel to a class of defined benefit participants in Stapleton et al. v. Advocate Health Care Network and Facilities et al., which allege that the hospital’s plan is not a church plan and thus the class is entitled to ERISA’s protections.  In district court, counsel succeeded in showing that only a church may establish a church plan and thus Advocate is not entitled to exemption from ERISA.  Plaintiffs then prevailed in the Seventh Circuit, which affirmed the district court’s holdings.
  • U.S. Bancorp Pension Plan Litigation: Cohen Milstein is counsel to a class of pension plan participants alleging that the plan’s managers engaged in a risky, imprudent investment strategy by investing 100% of its assets in stocks, thus causing the plan to lose more than $1 billion during the collapse of the equities market in 2008. Ms. Yau developed the litigation and is overseeing all aspects of the litigation.

Ms. Yau has litigated the following case successfully:

  • Merrill Lynch ERISA Litigation: Cohen Milstein served as interim co-lead counsel in a class action alleging that fiduciaries of the Merrill Lynch retirement plans imprudently purchased and held inflated Merrill employer stock for the retirement accounts of the Companies’ employees. The litigation was resolved for $75 million. Ms. Yau was engaged in all aspects of the litigation. 
  • Madoff Ponzi Scheme Litigation: Cohen Milstein represented a multi-plan class of participants, beneficiaries and fiduciaries in re Beacon Assoc. Litig. The $219 million  settlement in 2013 represented 70% of the Class members’ out-of-pocket losses. Ms. Yau was engaged in all aspects of the litigation.
  • Weyerhauser Pension Plan Litigation: Cohen Milstein was lead counsel in a lawsuit alleging that the Weyerhaeuser Company caused its Defined Benefit Retirement Plans to engage in a risky investment strategy involving alternative investments and derivatives, causing the Plans’ master trust to become underfunded. A settlement was reached for injunctive relief on behalf of Plans’ participants and beneficiaries. Ms. Yau was engaged in all aspects of the litigation.

Ms. Yau received her law degree from Harvard Law School in 2003, where she was awarded several public interest fellowships, including the Heyman Fellowship for academic excellence and a demonstrated commitment to federal public service.  Ms. Yau graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a B.A. in Mathematics from the University of Virginia.  Ms. Yau was also selected as an Echols Scholar and awarded the Student Council Scholarship for leadership, academic achievement and community service.  Law360 named Ms. Yau a Rising Star Under 40.

  • Financial Analyst, Goldman Sachs & Co., 1997-1999