ERISA/Employee Benefits Litigation
For More Information
Morgan Lewis’s ERISA/Employee Benefits Litigation Practice has been recognized as a leader in benefits litigation, with rankings in band 1 nationally in Chambers USA 2013 and in The Legal 500 2013. We regularly handle important employee benefits cases, trying class action suits and large, complex matters involving breaches of fiduciary duties and other claims. Our practice is also at the forefront of church plan litigation, where class action suits are filed to force ERISA-exempt church plans into the ERISA regulatory scheme.
Our team features lawyers who devote most or all of their practice to ERISA litigation. Our litigators are resident in the firm’s Chicago, Dallas, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C., offices, and we have appeared in nearly every federal court jurisdiction in the United States. The team’s size and geographic reach allow us to staff the largest, most complex cases with lawyers who are able to craft tailored and economical solutions to our clients’ challenges.
Our ERISA/Employee Benefits Litigation Practice is an integral part of our Labor and Employment Practice. We work side by side with lawyers who have experience in Title VII; the Age Discrimination in Employment Act, including the Older Workers Benefit Protection Act; the Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification Act; the National Labor Relations Act; the Labor Management Relations Act; the Fair Labor Standards Act; and the entire range of state labor laws. We also collaborate frequently with our Securities and Investment Management Practices on plan investment and regulatory issues that arise in employee benefits litigation.
Scope of Practice
Morgan Lewis’s ERISA/Employee Benefits Litigation Practice represents plan sponsors, fiduciaries, service providers, custodians, insurers, and others involved in employee benefits plan and plan asset administration across many industries, such as financial services; insurance; nonprofit, including religiously affiliated entities; governmental; retail; technology; telecommunications; ocean transportation; aviation; and manufacturing.
We regularly represent clients in matters ranging from class actions to multiparty, mass joinder, and single-plaintiff suits related to health, welfare, and pension benefits. Our team also defends Taft-Hartley deadlock arbitrations and counsels plan sponsors, trustees, and third-party administrators on fiduciary compliance and plan administration.
Morgan Lewis also serves as approved fiduciary liability class action panel counsel for several major fiduciary liability insurance carriers and is often accepted as counsel by carriers for whom we are not panel counsel.
We have successfully defended businesses, insurers, governmental entities, service providers, and nonprofit organizations in a wide variety of class action litigations as well as benefits litigations and disputes initiated by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). Our defense experience includes the following:
401(k) plan class actions
- 401(k) plan fee structures. Represent plan sponsors or service providers in ERISA class actions alleging that plan participants were charged excessive fees and expenses and alleging breach of fiduciary duty for failure to disclose fee structures or challenge investments in certain types of outside funds (e.g., private equity funds, hedge funds, and derivatives).
- 401(k) plan administration. Represent clients in class actions alleging that prohibited transactions (e.g., “revenue sharing” payments) or other purportedly impermissible administrative actions occurred.
- 401(k)/employee stock ownership plan (ESOP) investments in company stock (stock drop) and other diversification issues. Defend class actions alleging breaches of fiduciary duty in connection with 401(k) company stock investments in ESOPs, eligible individual account plans (EIAPs), or other investments.
- ESOP challenges to consideration paid for privately held employer stock
- Indemnification agreement disputes as to fiduciaries in the ESOP context
- DOL investigations and lawsuits
- Cases alleging unlawful or imprudent plan fees and expenses in the church plan context
- Challenges to the long-standing designation of retirement plans as exempt from ERISA under the church plan exemption
- Retirement plan claims alleging undervalued lump-sum distributions or benefits payments (including annuity payment reductions from defined contribution church plans) and breaches of fiduciary duty
- Class actions alleging violations of ERISA’s nonforfeitability and disclosure rules in connection with the conversion of traditional defined benefit pension plans to cash balance plans
- Other alleged violations of ERISA’s anti-cutback provision and similar accrued benefit theories
- Challenges to the calculation of lump-sum payouts (including cost-of-living adjustment valuation)
- Retiree medical class actions regarding changes made to retiree medical plans, including collectively bargained plans
- Other claims regarding contributions or changes to collectively bargained pension, health, or welfare plans
- So-called “provider assignment cases,” in which medical providers purport to have assignments from plan participants and seek to invoke ERISA as an additional class action remedy for pay and reimbursement disputes
- Suits regarding the calculation of service provider expenses, including disputes of calculation of usual, customary, and reasonable medical reimbursements
- Section 510 retaliation claims, including with respect to the requirements of the Affordable Care Act
- Matters involving the propriety of plans’ strategic asset allocation and portfolio investments
- Challenges to proprietary mutual fund or insurance offerings
- Lawsuits regarding the use of plan assets for allegedly improper purposes
- Benefit coordination and offset challenges
- Cases regarding the Consolidated Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act (COBRA), section 204(h), and other statutory notice violations
- Challenges to the payment of life insurance benefits through retained asset accounts (RAAs), including claims that such payments are prohibited and are breaches of fiduciary duty under ERISA
- Cases brought against Taft-Hartley (jointly administered) pension and health and welfare funds, including cases asserting improper crediting or offsetting of benefit calculations, claims alleging prohibited transactions, and assertions of delinquencies
- Other matters involving allegations of failure to disclose and/or misrepresentation of investment or administrative information
- Other claims for wrongful denial of benefits
Advice and training
Morgan Lewis’s lawyers have experience in the areas of ERISA consulting and reporting requirements, investment management, insurance regulation, investment management regulatory compliance, bankruptcy, and U.S. and international taxation. Where appropriate, the ERISA/Employee Benefits Litigation Practice collaborates with our colleagues in these areas to provide cost-effective, cross-disciplinary services and to obtain optimal solutions to our clients’ interconnected business and litigation needs. We offer the following services:
- Roundtables from our Employee Benefits and ERISA/Employee Benefits Litigation Practices, which provide real-time updates on the most serious trends affecting employee benefits plans
- Affordable Care Act compliance training and litigation preparedness
- Risk assessments and audits, design of best practices in fiduciary compliance, and advice on plan design and benefits-related human resources and labor relations matters
- Advice and training for plan sponsors, financial services providers, trustees, benefits fiduciaries, and others on litigation risks and prevention through litigation monitoring, educational programming, and ongoing communications
- Counseling for benefits committees of major corporations and large nonprofits—committees that have fiduciary responsibility for administering a variety of qualified and nonqualified employee benefits plans—and the independent fiduciaries who serve those plans
- Advice on case law and regulatory and legislative developments to ensure that clients are aware of and understand the practical implications of key judicial decisions; regulations issued by the DOL, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission; and pertinent legislative initiatives in the U.S. Congress