Employee Benefits Controversies

Overview

In the dynamic environment of employee benefits, organizations often face challenges involving litigation, risk management, enforcement issues and compliance matters. Controversies can begin with any of the numerous stakeholders, in a variety of circumstances, and often quickly can escalate.

We provide pragmatic counsel that not only addresses immediate concerns but also focuses specifically on the employee benefits landscape to look ahead, anticipate potential outcomes and effectively manage future risk. We help clients develop a meticulous record that can be used to protect and defend their interests.

Our team handles employee benefit controversies that arise under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA); controversies that result from the creation, implementation or termination of Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs); controversies that involve health and welfare plans, raise fiduciary and plan governance concerns, and involve plan-related tax issues, bankruptcies and receiverships; and more. We manage difficult or adversarial relationships and work collaboratively with regulators to achieve optimal results. Clients trust us to staff matters efficiently, respond swiftly and focus on their best interests.

We represent clients in many industries and have significant experience in the hospitality, print media, healthcare and manufacturing sectors. We also represent tax-exempt employers, organizations with unionized workforces, trustees, third-party administrators, insurers and other parties that get caught up in employee benefit plan and plan-related controversies.

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Services

Our services encompass both ERISA-related private litigation and adversarial administration and agency proceedings; we provide comprehensive counsel and representation regarding these key challenges.

ERISA controversies:
  • Fiduciary-oriented litigation (claims against fiduciaries, preemptive claims brought by fiduciaries, regulatory actions prompted by or spawning fiduciary conduct, etc.).
  • Arbitrations and related proceedings (including withdrawal liability and contributions-related disputes in collectively bargained settings).
  • Large-stakes claims disputes.
  • Worker misclassification controversies posing an existential threat to a benefit plan’s financial condition or regulatory posture.
  • Planwide or other systemic disputes (including class actions and settlements involving certification of classes).
  • Insurance disputes involving ERISA-regulated plans.
  • Settlement administration (consent judgments, etc.).
Administrative/Agency Issues:
  • Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC) audits; other PBGC-initiated Title IV proceedings.
  • IRS audits, inquiries and enforcement matters; Employee Plans Compliance Resolution System (EPCRS) matters; excise and penalty tax assessments; closing agreements.
  • Department of Labor (DOL) investigations and inquiries, Voluntary Fiduciary Correction Program (VFCP), Delinquent Filer Voluntary Compliance Program (DFVC) and other matters with significant litigation risk.
  • Prohibited transactions.
  • State insurance agency inquiries and enforcement proceedings involving putative benefit plans.

Select Experience

  • Represented a Fortune 500 company in a suit against the pension plan third-party administrator that allowed embezzlement and overpayments to drain trust assets.
  • Represented a 401(k) plan sponsor in a protracted, contentious DOL Employee Benefits Security Administration investigation and IRS audit alleging various fiduciary breaches and prohibited transactions, including working with the IRS Independent Office of Appeals and the DOL Office of Administrative Law Judges.
  • Represented a board member and former 100 percent shareholder in resolving a corporate governance and ERISA fiduciary liability dispute with an ESOP company.
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Experience

  • Represented a Fortune 500 company in a suit against the pension plan third-party administrator that allowed embezzlement and overpayments to drain trust assets.
  • Represented a 401(k) plan sponsor in a protracted, contentious DOL Employee Benefits Security Administration investigation and IRS audit alleging various fiduciary breaches and prohibited transactions, including working with the IRS Independent Office of Appeals and the DOL Office of Administrative Law Judges.
  • Represented a board member and former 100 percent shareholder in resolving a corporate governance and ERISA fiduciary liability dispute with an ESOP company.
  • Represented a major nonprofit healthcare system in ERISA top-hat plan litigation regarding Code Section 457(f) deferred compensation.
  • Represented a former union president in ERISA litigation, brought by the DOL Office of the Solicitor on behalf of the Employee Benefits Security Administration, regarding a union welfare benefit plan.
  • In litigation spanning eight years, represented a business owner who sold his family’s business to the business’ employees by setting up an ESOP. The owner was then sued by a class consisting of current and former employees claiming the terms of the sale were unfair. Contentious litigation ensued, with three separate employee groups taking extreme positions. Following a series of strategic victories on key motions, including one forcing a division of the class into separate classes and the appointment of separate counsel and one involving the realignment of fiduciaries, the case was settled on terms economically favorable to the client.
  • Successfully represented a major bank in a case involving “stock drop” litigation.

Recognition

  • Chambers USA: Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation – Ohio (2007 to 2021)
  • The Legal 500 United States:
    • Labor and employment – Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation & Retirement Plans: Design (2016 to 2021)
    • Labor and employment – Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation & Retirement Plans: Transactional (2016 to 2020)
  • U.S. News – Best Lawyers “Best Law Firms”
    • Employee Benefits (ERISA) Law: National (2012 to 2020); Cleveland (2011 to 2020); Columbus (2018 to 2020); Orlando (2012 to 2020);
    • Litigation – ERISA: National (2012 to 2020); Cleveland (2012 to 2020);
  • Recognized as one of the top law firms for client service, BakerHostetler was named to the 2020 BTI Client Service 30 for the sixth consecutive year.

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