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Report: $1.3 Billion in Top ERISA Class-Action Settlements in 2014

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Chicago, ILAn annual report of workplace litigation reveals that in 2014, ERISA lawsuits netted more than $1.3 billion in settlements, making 2014 the highest for ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act) plan settlement figures in recent history. Although the number of ERISA lawsuits was down by the end of 2014, a few massive ERISA settlements drastically increased the settlement figures for the year.

The 2015 Workplace Class Action Litigation Report is released by Seyfarth Shaw, a Chicago-based law firm, and covers a variety of workplace litigation topics, including ERISA, employment discrimination, and wage & hour lawsuits. The report’s authors note that wage & hour class-action lawsuit filings far surpassed all other filings. However, when it comes to case resolutions - based on the top 10 largest settlements in each topic - settlement numbers were down for all litigation areas except ERISA class actions.

In fact, at $1.3 billion in 2014, ERISA class-action settlements were approximately 10 times greater than in 2013, which saw $155.6 million in settlements. Furthermore, the top 10 settlements in wage & hour class actions for 2014 was $215.3 million, well below the ERISA settlement amount.

Among the top settlements in private plaintiff ERISA class-action lawsuits were $480 million against Daimler Trucks North America, LLC; $415 million against ING Life Insurance & Annuity Co; and $140 million against Nationwide Life Insurance Co. Allegations in ERISA lawsuits that received the highest settlements included “breach of fiduciary duty, use of revenue sharing agreements, reduction of retiree benefits [illegally cutting benefits], and/or investing pension or 401(k) assets into company stock.”

The report forecasts that more ERISA “stock drop” class actions are likely to be filed following a ruling in one lawsuit (Fifth Third Bancorp v. Dudenhoeffer), while a ruling in Tibble v. Edison determine vital questions concerning the statute of limitations and investments in ERISA plan lawsuits.

One of the most recent lawsuits to receive a settlement was the $140 million proposed settlement involving Nationwide Life Insurance Co. in December of 2014. That lawsuit was initially filed in 2001 and involved allegations of improper revenue-sharing arrangements that breached Nationwide’s fiduciary duties to plan participants. The proposed settlement has not been approved by the court.

ERISA is designed to protect employee benefits plans, including pension, stock and health plans, offered by private businesses. Under ERISA laws, the people responsible for running the health plans are bound by fiduciary duties. Failure to uphold those duties can result in a lawsuit being filed against the people or organizations responsible for overseeing the benefits plans.

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