December 04, 2019

Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll LLP partner Karen Handorf succeeded in getting a U.S. Supreme Court petition accepted and negotiating a $100 million settlement with a hospital in an Employee Retirement Income Security Act class action this year, landing her a spot among Law360's 2019 Benefits MVPs.

Her biggest accomplishment this year:

Handorf, chair of Cohen Milstein's employee benefits and ERISA practice group, said this year's biggest accomplishment — both for her and the firm — was getting the U.S. Supreme Court to accept review of the Eighth Circuit's employer-friendly ruling in Thole v. US Bank.

The case asks the high court to decide whether workers can sue over the mismanagement of their retirement savings when their pension plan is fully funded. The Eighth Circuit ruled in October 2017 that they could not, reaching the opposite conclusion of the Second, Third and Sixth circuits.

The U.S. government has sided with the US Bank pension plan participants, whom Cohen Milstein is representing. Handorf is optimistic that the justices will rule in her clients' favor.

"I'm fairly confident the Supreme Court is going to rule on the plaintiffs' behalf in Thole," Handorf said.

She said it's important that plan participants be able to sue even when their plan is fully funded, because Congress passed ERISA to give workers tools to hold their employers accountable for risky pension decision-making. If they can't sue, they can't use those tools.

"This is exactly what Congress passed ERISA for — to give people access to the federal courts to protect their own interests," Handorf said. "I just think fiduciaries of defined-benefit plans have been able to get away with murder because no one could sue them unless they were underfunded."

Ms. Handorf’s complete MVP profile can be viewed here.