Church Plan Litigation
The Cohen Milstein Benefits Blog
ERISA Litigation Trends in 2017
December 18, 2017
A Rule in Flux: The Department of Labor’s Fiduciary Rule
December 1, 2017
The Employee Retirement Income Security Act ("ERISA") governs the conduct of private (non-governmental) employers who sponsor employee benefit plans and persons who manage those plans and control their assets. ERISA imposes duties on persons influencing or controlling plan investments, sets minimum standards in the design of certain employee benefit plans, makes enforceable benefit promises made by employers (including those made through the purchase of insurance) and makes enforceable the standards of conduct and plan design imposed by ERISA itself. Persons involved in the management of plans and the control of their assets, often including the employer or designated corporate officers must act in the best interest of the employees covered by the plan and their beneficiaries, not in the interest of the employer, with respect to managing the retirement or other benefit plan. ERISA Plans include traditional pension plans, 401(k) plans, employee stock ownership plans ("ESOPs"), health and other employee benefits.
Cohen Milstein’s Employee Benefits Appellate Practice is dedicated to representing participants, beneficiaries or entities representing the interests of employees, retirees, plan participants or beneficiaries in ERISA cases on appeal. In the appropriate case, Cohen Milstein is willing to engage in appellate representation on a contingency fee basis or engage in representation on a deferred payment arrangement [please follow link for more information].
The following cases are a representative sample of the types of cases litigated by Cohen Milstein's Employee Benefits practice group:
- New York Life: The Firm represented a class of current and former employees of the New York Life Insurance Company alleging that New York Life violated ERISA and RICO by engaging in self-dealing and investing the assets of the pension and 401(k) plans of its employees and agents in New York Life's own inappropriate and underperforming retail mutual funds.
- SBC Communications: The Firm represented employees who received an early retirement window pension and alleges that SBC violated ERISA by miscalculating the pension benefits for thousands of employees.
- Fujitsu: The Firm represented former employees of Fujitsu of America or its subsidiaries who were laid off with more than three years of service alleging that Fujitsu violated ERISA by adopting a plan provision changing the plan's vesting schedule in violation of a provision of ERISA that prohibits the involuntary application of such changes to employees with more than three years of service under the plan.
401(k) Retirement Plans
Building on Cohen Milstein's extensive experience of the Securities Fraud/Investor Protection practice area, the firm also represents employees who purchased overvalued employer stock through employer-sponsored 401(k) retirement plans. In these cases, the firm represents employees alleging breach of fiduciary duties in order to hold employers and the plan fiduciaries accountable for misrepresentations which artificially inflated the value of the employer stock purchased through their 401(k) plans. While these employees may also have claims under the securities fraud laws, ERISA provides employees with significant additional rights and remedies to recover losses in employer stock lost through a 401(k) retirement plan. Cohen Milstein has litigated or is actively litigating the following cases in involving the acquisition of fraudulently inflated employer stock through the following companies' 401(k) plans:
For more information on these or other potential 401(k) cases, please contact Cohen Milstein at 202- 408-4600 or toll-free at 1-888-240-0775.
Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs)
- Azon Corporation Employee Stock Ownership Plan - The Firm represented a class of current and former employees of Azon alleging breach of fiduciary duties against the Trustee, HSBC Bank, and other fiduciaries who permitted insiders at the company to sell their holdings in the Company for more than fair market value. Since and as a result of this transaction, Azon has gone bankrupt and the assets of the Azon ESOP have become worthless.
- Tharaldson Motels Inc. Employee Stock Ownership Plan - The Firm represents former employees of Tharaldson alleging breach of fiduciary duties against the Trustee, Gary Tharaldson, and other fiduciaries who permitted Gary Tharaldson and his family to sell their stock in the Company for more than fair market value in two self-dealing transactions which were designed primarily for the benefit of Gary Tharaldson and his family and not the employees of the Company who participated in the Plan.
For more information about identifying potential ESOP cases, contact Cohen Milstein at 202- 408-4600 or toll-free at 1-888-240-0775.
Other Employee Benefits
- FFIC - The Firm represented a class of disabled now former Fireman's Fund employees who were terminated as a result of the adoption of a policy by Fireman's Fund Insurance Company to terminate the employment status of disabled employees who are unable to return to work.
- ILGWU - The Firm represents a class of retired members of the ILGWU who are challenging the transfer of ILGWU Death Benefit Fund assets to the ILGWU in violation of the terms of the Plan term.
- BellSouth - The Firm represents a class of retirees against BellSouth Corporation and AT&T Inc. regarding the BellSouth Telephone Concession promised to employees after they retire or provided to retirees living outside of an area served by BellSouth ("Out-of-Area Telephone Concession").
Amicus and Other ERISA Advice
Cohen Milstein's Employee Benefits practice group has represented entities as amicus and provided advice on ERISA issues. For example, we have represented the following entities in filing amicus briefs:
- The Pension Rights Center as amicus curiae before the United States Supreme Court supporting the petitioners on the merits in Tibble v. Edison International, No. 13-550 (filed Dec. 9, 2014), arguing that 401(k) plan fiduciaries must monitor the fees charged by plan investments on a periodic basis, and that participants can sue to require fiduciaries to replace overpriced investment options in 401(k) plans more than six years after the investment options were initially added to the plan.
- National Association of Insurance Commissioners as amicus before the United States Supreme Court in Rush Prudential HMO, Inc. v. Moran, 536 U.S. 355 (2002) a case involving the scope of ERISA preemption of state insurance laws. See Brief of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners As Amicus Curiae In Support of Respondents, 2001 WL 1673395 (filed Nov. 7, 2001).
- The Pension Rights Center as amicus before the United States Supreme Court supporting certiorari in Harley v. 3M Company, 537 U.S. 1106 (2003) involving the issue of whether plan participants may sue to recover losses to overfunded defined benefit plans caused by a breach of fiduciary duty. See Brief of the Pension Rights Center as Amicus Curiae in Support of Petitioners, 2002 WL 32133446 (filed Nov. 14, 2002).
- The Firm has also served as counsel for Independent Fiduciaries in connection with the evaluation of proposed settlements of litigation involving pension plans.
In addition the Firm has provided advice to the AFL-CIO in connection with ERISA preemption issues raised by state health care legislation, provided expert services on ERISA legal issues, and provided representation to a Trust Fund investigating claims for fiduciary breaches by its service providers.