Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Blog

The View from Proskauer on Developments in the World of Employee Benefits, Executive Compensation & ERISA Litigation

Russell Hirschhorn

Russell Hirschhorn

Partner

Russell L. Hirschhorn represents plan fiduciaries, trustees, sponsors and service providers on the full range of ERISA and state law benefit and fiduciary issues. From single plaintiff to litigation and arbitration to complex class action litigation, he provides practical guidance, develops unique litigation defense strategies and, when appropriate, mediates successful resolutions.

Russell represents clients across a wide array of publicly-held, multi-national companies and privately owned companies across a multitude of industries including, banking, finance and investments, pharmaceuticals, retail products and construction, to name just a few. In addition, he also counsels benefit plan clients on a host of compliance and federal and state government agency enforcement matters, including complex and lengthy investigations and audits by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Labor.

Russell is management co-chair of the American Bar Association Employee Benefits Committee. He also writes on cutting-edge ERISA litigation issues, serving as the co-editor of the Firm’s Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Blog and as a contributing author and a past chapter editor to Employee Benefits Law (BNA Third Edition).

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Delegating Fiduciary Responsibilities Related to ESOP Results in Dismissal of ERISA Stock-Drop Claims

Among the many lawsuits Boeing confronted following the disclosure of problems with the 737 Max was a class action brought by participants in the Boeing Voluntary Investment Plan who invested in the Boeing ESOP.  The plaintiffs alleged that the Boeing defendants breached their ERISA fiduciary duties by concealing problems with the 737 Max, which allegedly … Continue Reading

DOL Issues Final “ESG” Rule Restricting ERISA Fiduciary Consideration of Non-Pecuniary Investment Factors

On October 30, 2020, the U.S. Department of Labor (the “DOL”) issued a final rule on factors for selecting plan investments, which restricts “do-good” or “ESG” investing.  In response to public comments, the final rule rolls back some of the restrictions and burdens from its proposed rule issued in June (summarized here), but it reaffirms … Continue Reading

ERISA Plan Participants Cannot Proceed As A Class In Challenging EpiPen Prices

Four ERISA plan participants, who participated in four different ERISA plans, commenced an ERISA class action against four of the nation’s largest pharmacy benefit managers (PBMs), alleging that the PBMs breached their fiduciary duties by failing to ensure that the plaintiffs and other plan participants received the benefit of discounts that the PBMs had negotiated … Continue Reading

American Airlines 401(k) Plan Not Required To Offer Stable Value Fund

Among the many claims brought by plaintiffs challenging investment offerings in defined contribution plans is the claim that plans should offer stable value funds in lieu of more conservative capital preservation funds, such as money market funds and deposit accounts that are insured by the U.S. government.  Plaintiffs have argued that stable value funds are … Continue Reading

SEC Cracks Down on Retirement Fund Advisers’ Undisclosed Compensation and Conflicts

In August 2020, the SEC issued two orders against VALIC Financial Advisors Inc. (VFA) related to VFA’s management of 403(b) and 457(b) plans. These matters arise out of two of the SEC’s enforcement initiatives, the Teachers and Military Service Members’ Initiative and the Share Class Selection Disclosure Initiative. VFA is a registered investment adviser and broker-dealer with approximately $21.1 billion … Continue Reading

Fifth Circuit: Plaintiff Not Entitled to Attorneys’ Fees For Obtaining Remand on Appeal

The Fifth Circuit concluded that an individual plaintiff was not entitled to attorneys’ fees, even though she persuaded the Fifth Circuit to vacate and remand a summary judgment decision in favor of the Humana Health Plan, because her victory was “purely procedural.”  While ERISA section 502(g)(1) provides that a court “in its discretion may allow … Continue Reading

“Divane Intervention”: ERISA 401(k) Plan Investment Claims Dead On Arrival

A federal district court in Illinois recently dismissed “excessive fee” and “imprudent investment” claims against the plan fiduciaries of the CareerBuilder 401(k) plan fiduciaries, relying largely on the Seventh Circuit’s decision in Divane v. Northwestern University, 953 F.3d 980 (7th Cir. 2020).  (Our blog on the Divane decision is available here.)  In the case against … Continue Reading

U.S. Supreme Court Holds ERISA Defined Benefit Plan Participants Without Monetary Losses Lack Article III Standing to Assert Breach of Fiduciary Duty Claims

Earlier today, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed a decision by the Eighth Circuit holding that ERISA plan participants lack Article III standing to sue for breach of fiduciary duty to recover investment losses in a defined benefit fund that was not underfunded.  The Court concluded that the participants lacked a concrete stake in the dispute … Continue Reading

Choice-of-Law Plan Provision Enforced As A Matter of Federal Common Law

The Tenth Circuit recently concluded that, as a matter of federal common law, a choice-of-law provision in a long-term disability insurance policy, which was part of the plaintiff’s employer’s ERISA plan, must be enforced because a “clear, uniform rule . . . is required to ensure plan administrators enjoy the predictable obligations and reduced administrative … Continue Reading

Seventh Circuit Upholds Dismissal of 403(b) Plan Lawsuit Against Northwestern University in Apparent Split with Third Circuit

Since the beginning of 2016, the ERISA plaintiffs’ bar has filed nearly two dozen complaints targeting university-sponsored 403(b) plans.  The majority of these lawsuits assert that plan fiduciaries breached their duties and engaged in prohibited transactions by (1) “packing” a plan with too many investment options that underperformed and were more expensive relative to other … Continue Reading

EBSA FY 2019 MHPAEA Enforcement

The Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) is charged with ensuring that plans comply with ERISA, including the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA).  EBSA recently released its MHPAEA report for Fiscal Year (FY) 2019.  We provide below highlights from EBSA’s report and also note some comparisons to FY 2018. In FY 2019, EBSA … Continue Reading

Minimizing the Risk of ERISA Litigation in a Turbulent Economic Climate

As recent history has shown, ERISA claims seeking recovery of investment losses tend to proliferate during times of market volatility.  The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic presents a unique opportunity for plaintiffs to search for and bring fiduciary-breach claims based on the underperformance of company stock funds and other available investment options in 401(k) and 403(b) plans.  … Continue Reading

Best Practices in Administering Benefit Claims #10 – The Three C’s

We conclude our blog series on best practices in administering benefit claims with the three C’s:  be clear, be consistent, and communicate.  The key to effective benefit claim administration ultimately boils down to drafting and maintaining clear plan documents, implementing and enforcing plan terms consistently, and communicating clearly with plan participants and beneficiaries. First, all … Continue Reading

Best Practices in Administering Benefit Claims #9 – Managing Litigation

As we shifted focus last week from a plan’s administrative claims procedures to defending against a claim for benefits in court, we explained how a well-documented administrative record can enhance the chances of getting a case dismissed at the outset without the need for protracted litigation.  This week, we offer three opportunities to further manage … Continue Reading

Best Practices in Administering Benefit Claims #8 – Facing Litigation of Benefit Claims

Up to now, our blog series has focused on best practices for implementing a plan’s claims and appeals procedure.  We shift gears this week to see how following these best practices pays dividends if a participant’s (or beneficiary’s) claim is denied and the participant decides to pursue the claim for benefits in court (or, if … Continue Reading

Best Practices in Administering Benefit Claims #7 – Understanding Attorney-Client Privilege in the Benefits Claims Process

When a plan administrator is attending to a benefit claim and thinks it is time to call in an attorney, are those discussions privileged and protected from disclosure to claimants?  In this week’s blog, we take a look at some of those communications between attorneys and plan administrators and examine whether or not they are … Continue Reading

Best Practices in Administering Benefit Claims #6 – Distinguishing an Inquiry from a Claim

It’s Week #6, and we have turned the corner in our Top 10 Best Practices in Administering Benefit Claims.  In case you missed any (or all) of the first five best practices, links to each of them appear below.  This week we discuss how to distinguish an inquiry from a claim for benefits. The claims … Continue Reading

Best Practices in Administering Benefit Claims #5 – Establishing (and Following) a Good Claims Process

This week we discuss the importance of establishing good claims procedures and the benefits of following those procedures. A plan’s claims procedures should be spelled out clearly in both the plan document and the summary plan description (where the two documents are not one in the same).  In addition to setting all of the applicable … Continue Reading

Best Practices in Administering Benefit Claims #4 – Know (and Understand) the Law: Full and Fair Review

This week in our blog series on best practices in administering benefit claims, we discuss the importance of knowing and, importantly, understanding the laws governing benefit claim administration. Section 503 of ERISA sets forth the general guidelines for a plan’s claims and appeal procedures.  It requires that a plan provide adequate written notice of the … Continue Reading

Best Practices in Administering Benefit Claims #3 – Dealing with Benefit Assignments

Our blog series on best practices in administering benefit claims has thus far stressed the importance of knowing and reading the plan document and summary plan description.  This week, we take a look at a plan term that has been the subject of frequent dispute in health and welfare benefits claim litigation—interpretation of plan provisions … Continue Reading

Best Practices in Administering Benefit Claims #2 – Know (and Read) Your SPD

Last week, we kicked off our blog series on the fundamentals of benefit claim administration with an explanation of how important it is to know and read your plan document.  The plan document is the legally binding contract that describes each participant’s rights and benefits under the plan. It also guides the legal obligations and … Continue Reading

Best Practices in Administering Benefit Claims #1 – Know (and Read) Your Plan Document

Our ERISA Practice Center blog posts often discuss many complex, and sometimes esoteric, substantive and procedural ERISA issues, as well as related agency guidance and case law.  In this new ten-part blog series, however, we take a step away from the complex and esoteric in order to review some of the fundamentals of benefit claim … Continue Reading
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