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BP Faces Stockholder and ERISA Lawsuits

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New York, NYBP faces lawsuits not only from those who suffered losses of income as a result of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, but also from BP employees alleging that BP benefits plan fiduciaries violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

BP also faces lawsuits from other funds alleging they were dramatically affected by the oil spill. One lawsuit was filed by New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, trustee of the New York State Common Retirement Fund. The Fund, which is valued at approximately $130 billion, seeks lead plaintiff status in a lawsuit related to BP's Deepwater Horizon explosion and sinking and the subsequent oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

"It's my duty to protect the interests of the Fund and the retirees and employees who rely on it," DiNapoli said in a 6/23/10 news release. "BP misled investors about its safety procedures and its ability to respond to events like the ongoing oil spill and we're going to hold it accountable."

According to the news release, the New York State Common Retirement Fund provides benefits to active and retired state and government employees, police officers and firefighters. Approximately one million people receive benefits from the fund, which had 19 million shares at the time of the oil spill. The lawsuit is intended to recover damages in shareholder value following the Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Meanwhile, BP employees could have their own lawsuit against BP if they can prove that fiduciaries of BP's Employee Savings Plan violated ERISA by buying and holding BP shares when it was "imprudent" to have those shares.

According to the Associated Press on 6/24/10, there are four BP Employee Savings Plans with a total of more than $8.2 billion invested in late 2009. Of those investments, approximately $2.4 billion was in BP. The Associated Press notes that BP stock closed at $60.48 before the oil spill but closed at $29.67 on June 23, 2010.

Attorneys are investigating whether BP Employee Savings Plans fiduciaries knew or should have known about problems with BP's safety record that would have made BP an inappropriate investment.

One ERISA lawsuit has already been filed by a former BP employee who participated in the BP Employee Savings Plan. Pensions & Investments reported on 6/25/10 that Ralph Whitley alleges company stock was an imprudent investment for the plan. The lawsuit seeks class action status for participants in the BP Employee Savings Plan, BP Capital Accumulation Plan, BP Partnership Savings Plan and BP Direct Save Plan. According to the lawsuit, the defendants breached their fiduciary duties by failing to prudently manage the plans' investments.


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