Overview

“This team is simply outstanding- knows this area extremely well and are in high demand for their expertise. This is a complex area of law and the team is able to explain things in simple terms. Very responsive and pleasant to work with.” – Legal 500 USA 2020
“‘No firm compares to’ Mayer Brown when it comes to ERISA litigation. The team is ‘very responsive and provides practical and proactive advice’ . . . .” Legal 500 USA 2018

To litigate cases about employee benefits requires substantive know-how and the ability to translate arcane concepts into terms that lay judges can understand. Mayer Brown has a thriving ERISA Litigation practice that combines deep experience, skilled advocacy and cutting-edge insights.

Our ERISA litigators are neither benefits lawyers nor litigation generalists—they are full-time litigators who focus on understanding how benefits disputes arise and are adjudicated. As such, our lawyers have been retained to offer counsel on all of the issues that typically arise in litigation or administrative proceedings involving employee benefit plans. We are regularly engaged by plan sponsors and plan administrators, as well as individual and corporate fiduciaries, trustees, custodians, financial institutions and plan service providers, in matters ranging from individual benefit disputes to complex class actions. And we counsel those same clients about how to reduce their risk of being sued in the first place. We have also been preapproved by fiduciary liability carriers to provide defense for their insureds.

The breadth of our experience and our client successes have led to accolades for the group and its lawyers from leading publications such as Law360Legal 500 USA, Chambers USA, The National Law Journal and Best Lawyers. In 2019, we were honored by Law360 as one of only five firms to be awarded “Benefits Practice Group of the Year.” Additionally, two  of our partners were recently named  Employment Law Trailblazers by The National Law Journal, which recognizes lawyers who “continue to make their mark in various aspects of legal work in the areas of employment law.” Our lawyers were also recognized in the 2020 Hall of Fame for ERISA Litigation by Legal 500 USA, a 2020 Law360 MVP and Rising star, as a 2019 “Lawyer of the Year” by Best Lawyers in the category of ERISA Litigation and a 2019 Law360  in the category of benefits litigation. 

When working with Mayer Brown, clients benefit not just from the skills and experience of our ERISA litigators but also from those of our other top-notch professionals. ERISA matters often intersect with investigations by US federal agencies (such as the Department of Labor, the Securities and Exchange Commission and the Internal Revenue Service) and other benefits and tax issues, so we regularly coordinate with our ERISA Fiduciary counseling group, which contributes a deep understanding of ERISA’s regulatory environment, and our firm’s esteemed Securities Litigation & Enforcement and Tax Controversy practices. We also understand that the law is not static and is shaped by litigation strategy. We therefore turn to our elite Supreme Court & Appellate litigation practice when it will benefit our clients. Our Supreme Court & Appellate practice is consistently recognized as one of the best in the United States, having been named to National Law Journal’s “Appellate Hot List” for the 12th consecutive year and recognized by Law360 as “Practice Group of the Year” for the fourth year in a row. 

Although our practice covers the full domain of ERISA litigation, here is a sampling of our experience:

Fiduciary

Recent trends have prompted fiduciaries to be sued, often in class actions, under complaints challenging plan investment decisions; plan fee arrangements, including recordkeeping costs and revenue sharing among plan providers; employer stock options; benefits claims denials; and out-of-network healthcare provider billing practices. We have substantial experience in each of these areas. Lawyers in our ERISA Litigation practice are experienced in managing relationships with fiduciary liability carriers and in addressing concerns that arise in such cases. Our favorable results speak for themselves.

Enforcement Actions

Our ERISA Litigation lawyers are practiced in working with the Department of Labor to resolve investigations, audits and enforcement actions, which we have defended on behalf of plans and plan sponsors, advisers and other fiduciaries and service providers. For example, we have represented investment fund advisers in connection with Department of Labor conflict-of-interest challenges, government contractors in Department of Labor investigations over plan fees charged to participants and financial institutions in connection with, among other things, the Department of Labor’s investigation into mutual fund market timing practices, the Department of Labor’s enforcement initiative against cross-trading and in preparing comments to the Department of Labor on its class exemption for passive cross-trading.

Regulatory

The tides of litigation often follow the regulatory agenda of the Department of Labor. Our ERISA Litigation lawyers counsel clients on how to mitigate risks stemming from Department of Labor rulemaking proceedings and have challenged regulatory overreaches in court using the tools of the Administrative Procedure Act. Together with members of our ERISA Fiduciary counseling group, we have also sought formal exemptions and opinion letters from the Department of Labor.

Given this wide range of experience, we are exceptionally well qualified to help clients deal with the controversies that ERISA still generates more than 40 years after it was adopted.

ERISA Litigation Brochure
The Firms that Dominated 2019: Benefits Group of the Year
Four Mayer Brown partners named 2019 "MVPs" by Law360

Experience

Excessive Fee and Plan Administration Claims

Pension Benefit and Executive Compensation Claims

Health, Welfare and Severance Claims

ESOP Claims

Out-of-Network Provider Billing Claims

 

Excessive Fee and Plan Administration Claims

  • We represent a global security company in two separate class actions in the Central District of California challenging the administration and investments of its 401(k) plan with excess of $16 billion in assets. The claims challenge various administrative and investment actions taken by our client’s management in operating the benefit plan. Our lawyers achieved a favorable settlement in the first of these class action cases after a week of trial had been completed.
  • We defended a global defense company, including its investment management corporation, in an ERISA putative class action in connection with defined contribution plans’ investment options and fees, in the Southern District of Illinois. This long-running case involved a challenge to one of the nation’s largest 401(k) plans. A group of plaintiffs filed suit against our client and a subsidiary, alleging that their 401(k) accounts were subject to unreasonable fees and imprudent investment fund offerings. Plaintiffs alleged class-wide damages exceeding $1 billion. In a succession of proceedings that included two trips to the court of appeals and a cert petition, we succeeded in narrowing the claims and the terms of class certification. On the eve of trial, the case settled on favorable terms for our clients.
  • We secured a major victory for Georgetown University by obtaining dismissal of a class action lawsuit alleging they had mismanaged its retirement plan for faculty and staff. Plaintiffs alleged that they were entitled to hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, but we convinced the court that the claims did not warrant discovery.
  • We obtained a complete dismissal of an ERISA class action accusing George Washington University (GWU) of mismanaging its retirement plan. The district court and the D.C. Circuit found that the plaintiff had previously released all of her claims against GWU and that the release’s narrow exclusion for claims brought “under” the university’s employee benefits plans did not preserve the plaintiff’s statutory claims under ERISA.
  • We secured a major victory for Cornell University in a pending class-action lawsuit about the university’s retirement plan. A New York federal court deemed two of the plaintiffs' expert witnesses to be unreliable and granted summary judgment to Cornell on claims accounting for more than 99.9% of the plaintiffs’ asserted damages.
  • We represent Columbia University and Yale University in separate (but related) actions regarding the administration of the so-called “403(b)” retirement plans that they offer to faculty and staff. These cases present cutting-edge questions about the scope and nature of ERISA fiduciary duties and promise either to expand or to limit the liability of nonprofit institutions, which have not previously been targeted by large-scale, class action lawsuits of this type. We also settled two related actions against Long Island University and the University of Rochester without certifying a class.
  • We represent a global telecommunications company in a nationwide class action challenging the administration of its 401(k) plan with more than 240,000 active participants and an excess of $34 billion in assets. The claims challenge various administrative and investment actions taken by our client in administering and operating the benefit plan.
  • We represented a global life insurance company in a class action challenging the application and effect of a cash balance formula. Among ruling on the merits of the ERISA statutory claim, the court of appeals held that the plaintiffs’ claim that they received insufficient notice of the amendment was barred by the applicable statute of limitations.
  • We obtained a favorable opinion from the Second Circuit in an ERISA class action alleging fiduciary breach and challenging the fees charged for certain investments in a 401(k) plan. The opinion serves as prominent precedent in other ERISA class actions within the Second Circuit and as persuasive authority in other courts nationwide.
  • We represented a financial services company as trustee and investment manager in a massive ERISA class action filed by employees of an automotive manufacturer who suffered retirement savings plan losses as the manufacturer’s stock declined.
  • We defended a class action that alleged breach of fiduciary duty in the role of investment manager. The plaintiff class was composed of employees of a global oil company participating in a 401(k) plan. As a result of the Enron collapse, one of the investments in one of the funds within the 401(k) plan became worthless. Plaintiffs claimed damages in excess of $20 million. The case settled on the first day of trial.
  • We represent a trade group in two cases challenging the appropriateness of stable value funds offered within 401(k) plans.
  • We successfully defended the defendant fiduciary from a financial services company in the leading Sixth Circuit decision governing fiduciary procedures in selecting and retaining 401(k) investment options.
  • We are defending the trustees of the employees’ union pension and severance fund in multiple actions alleging that defendants should have transferred the participants’ assets under their former 401(k) plan to their new union’s plan.
  • We are defending the plan fiduciaries of a renewable energy company in a Department of Labor investigation into whether the plan administrator complied with the plan amendment placing a cap on employee contributions to the plan sponsor’s stock.
  • We appeared as amicus in ERISA class actions alleging excessive fees in 401(k) plan administration and investment management in:Tibble v. Edison International (United States Supreme Court)
    • Renfro v. Unisys Corp. (Third Circuit)
    • Spano v. Boeing (Seventh Circuit)
    • Howell v. Motorola Inc. (Seventh Circuit)
    • ­­­Beesley, et al. v. International Paper Company (Seventh Circuit)
    • Ellis v. Fidelity Management Trust Co. (First Circuit)
    • Barchock, et al. v. CVS Health Corp. (First Circuit)
    • CNH Industrial N.V. v. Reese (retiree medical benefits)

Pension Benefit and Executive Compensation Claims

  • We secured a win for an aerospace and defense technology company in a nationwide class action over pension benefits. In one of the first cases in the Ninth Circuit to address a pension plan’s right to recoup benefit overpayments to plan participants, the team convinced a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit that alleged claims involving breach of fiduciary duty and violations of ERISA’s disclosure requirements.
  • We represent a telecommunications company in a putative class action pertaining to the appropriate actuarial method to convert a guaranteed pension into an optional form of benefit. This case is part of an emerging wave of actuarial equivalence litigation.
  • We successfully defended a class action challenging the exclusion of certain pay from pension calculations for 18,000 retirees; the plan administrator's position was upheld by the court in a decision reversing an adverse district court ruling, which could have cost $125 million in claimed benefits.
  • We represent a global life insurance company in a nationwide class action pending in the Southern District of California regarding administration of a pension plan stemming from the acquisition of another company and pertaining, in particular, to eligibility of predecessor company employees to participate and accrue benefits.
  • We won summary judgment for the defendants in a class action brought to challenge calculation of lump sum pension payments to certain former employees.
  • We successfully defended an employer and its pension plans in a class action brought on behalf of over 12,000 former employees who challenged the calculation of their pension benefits in the course of converting from a traditional defined benefit plan to a cash balance plan.
  • We represented a global life insurance company in a nationwide class action over administration of a pension plan alleging a wrongful denial of benefits for the class as a result of the plan administrator’s plan interpretation. We settled the case for a fraction of damages sought.
  • We defended the retirement plan of an insurance company in a class action challenging the plan design and administration, which excluded the value of a cost-of-living adjustment from lump sum calculations of retirement benefits; negotiated a favorable settlement.
  • We secured a victory before the Second Circuit Court of Appeals on behalf of our client, a global life insurance company, in high-profile ERISA litigation against the State of Vermont, which was then affirmed by the United States Supreme Court. On behalf of our client, we challenged a state regulation requiring the disclosure of employees' private and confidential medical claims history from health insurers within the state.
  • We secured a victory for a financial services company in a class action regarding an executive retirement plan in the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, in which a group of 400 executives of an automobile company alleged numerous state law claims alleging that the bankrupt employer raided the plan assets.
  • We successfully defended a global insurance company in a class action filed by insurance agents challenging an amendment to the company's sales performance requirements for agents to qualify for benefits.
  • We represented a global life insurance company in vigorously contested litigation by a former executive over his retirement plan and deferred compensation benefits.

Health, Welfare and Severance Claims

  • We successfully defended a global life insurance company against a medical benefits claim brought by a recidivist third-party medical provider that sought to obtain standing through an assignment of benefits.
  • We won summary judgment for a telecommunications company in a benefits action challenging the claim administrator’s denial of the participant’s claims for short-term and long-term disability benefits.
  • We represent an aerospace and defense technology company in a benefits action challenging the terms of the plan under the Mental Health Parity Act and the claim administrator’s denial of benefits for the participant’s stay at a residential treatment center.
  • We represent a leading automotive equipment manufacturer in a benefits action challenging the terms of a severance plan and the denial of the participant’s benefits claim.
  • We successfully resolved multiple short-term and long-term disability benefits actions for a leading direct to consumer marketing and product development company.

ESOP Claims

  • We represent the plan sponsor of an employee stock ownership plan (“ESOP”) in a putative class action brought against the ESOP trustee alleging that the ESOP trustee breached its fiduciary duties by causing the ESOP to engage in a prohibited transaction by paying above market value for shares in the company.
  • We represent the plan sponsor of an ESOP in a Department of Labor investigation into whether the plan sponsor, selling shareholders, and ESOP trustee breached their fiduciary duties in connection with the ESOP transaction.

Out-of-Network Provider Billing Claims

  • We represented a global food manufacturing company and its employee benefit health plan in a lawsuit brought by a medical services provider challenging a plan amendment that modified the in-network and out-of-network status of, and reimbursement amounts to, medical service providers.

Accolades

  • Earned a spot in Law360’s “Benefits Practice Group of the Year” category in 2019 for winning dismissals in a wave of ERISA class action lawsuits throughout the United States
  • Top-Tier ERISA Litigation Practice – US News/Best Lawyers “Best Law Firms” since 2016
  • Recognized as a leading ERISA litigation practice nationwide since 2015 – Legal 500 USA
  • Recognized as a leading ERISA litigation practice nationwide in 2019 and 2020 – Chambers USA
  • One partner named to the Hall of Fame by Legal 500 USA in ERISA Litigation in 2020
  • Two partners named by The National Law Journal as Employment Law Trailblazers in 2019 and 2020
  • Two partners named a Law360 MVP in the category of benefits litigation in 2019 and 2020
  • One partner recognized as a 2019 “Lawyer of the Year” in category of ERISA Litigation – Best Lawyers