On November 9th, the IRS announced additional inflation adjustments for 2024, including to the annual contribution and carryover limits for healthcare flexible spending accounts and the monthly limit for qualified transportation fringe benefits. The IRS did not increase the annual contribution limit for dependent care flexible spending accounts because that limit is not indexed to

A federal district court judge in the Eastern District of Kentucky has enforced an ESOP’s arbitration clause, sending P.L. Marketing Inc. employees’ breach of fiduciary duty claims on behalf of a putative class to individual arbitration. The case is Merrow et al. v. Horizon Bank et al., No. 2:22-cv-123, 2023 WL 7003231, at *1 (E.D. Ky. Oct. 24, 2023).

Plaintiffs, participants in P.L. Marketing, Inc.’s ESOP, sued the plan’s trustee, Horizon Bank, alleging that Horizon violated ERISA’s fiduciary duties and prohibited transaction rules by causing the ESOP to overpay for company stock. The ESOP plan document included a mandatory arbitration clause as well as a waiver of class arbitration. Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing in part that the district court lacked jurisdiction to hear the claims because they fell within the scope of the ESOP’s arbitration clause.

On November 1st, the IRS released a number of inflation adjustments for 2024, including to certain limits for qualified retirement plans. As expected, this year’s adjustments are more modest than last year’s significant increases. The table below provides an overview of the key adjustments for qualified retirement plans.

Qualified Defined Benefit Plans
20232024

Responding to the “terrifying” reality that conflicted investment advice is costing retirement savers billions of dollars each year, on October 31, 2023, the Department of Labor (“DOL”) issued proposed rules representing its latest attempt to expand what it means to be providing “investment advice” for a fee under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of

In late 2022, the U.S. Department of Labor (the “DOL”) issued final regulations (the “Final Rules”) which address the extent to which ERISA plan fiduciaries may consider environmental, social and governance (“ESG”) factors when making investment decisions and exercising shareholder rights, such as voting proxies, on behalf of ERISA-covered plans. For a detailed discussion of the Final Rules, see here.

Although the Final Rules generally became effective on January 30, 2023, certain special proxy voting-related rules are set to first take effect on December 1, 2023, and may require action by ERISA plan fiduciaries in advance of the effective date.

In Svenhard’s Swedish Bakery v. United States Bakery, Bk. No. 19-15277, 2023 WL 5541420 (9th Cir. Aug. 29, 2023), the Ninth Circuit held that a settlement agreement that resolved an employer’s withdrawal liability to a multiemployer pension fund was not an executory contract that could be assumed and assigned to a third-party when that employer subsequently filed for bankruptcy.  The decision is instructive for multiemployer funds and employers that negotiate settlement agreements to resolve these types of liabilities.

Last week, the Departments of Labor, Treasury and Health and Human Services rolled back two non-enforcement policies related to the machine-readable file requirements included in the transparency in coverage (TIC) final rules: (1) deferred enforcement of the requirement that health plans post a machine-readable file listing negotiated rates and historical net prices for covered prescription drugs, and (2) an enforcement safe harbor with respect to the requirement that dollar amounts be listed in the in-network rate machine-readable file for items and services for which it is difficult to ascertain dollar amounts in advance. The guidance was released in the form of FAQs, which can be viewed here.

By way of brief background, for plan years starting on or after July 1, 2022, non-grandfathered health plans are required to post three machine-readable files (updated monthly) covering the following: (1) in-network rates (expressed as a dollar amount) for covered items and services, (2) allowed amounts for covered items and services furnished by out-of-network providers, and (3) negotiated rates and historical net prices for covered prescription drugs. 

We have previously blogged on the flurry of class action lawsuits challenging 401(k) plan investments in the BlackRock LifePath Index Target Date Funds. District courts around the country—seven of them in total—have granted motions to dismiss claims by 401(k) plan participants because their copy-cat allegations of underperformance were insufficient to raise a plausible inference of imprudence. That is, until now. Last week, a federal district court judge in the Eastern District of Virginia became the first to conclude that the participants’ allegations of imprudence related to the BlackRock Funds were plausible. Trauernicht v. Genworth, No. 22-cv-532, 2023 WL 5961651 (E.D. Va. Sept. 13, 2023).

A recent Ninth Circuit decision has generated considerable controversy amongst employee benefits practitioners by holding that plan fiduciaries engaged in prohibited transactions when they amended the plan’s existing recordkeeping contract to add brokerage and investment advisory services. In so ruling, the Court remanded the case to the district court to consider whether the transactions fell within the exemption for reasonable service agreements and, independently, whether it was imprudent for plan fiduciaries not to consider third-party compensation earned by the plan’s recordkeeper. The case is Bugielski v. AT&T Services, Inc., 76 F. 4th 894 (9th Cir. 2023).

Participants in AT&T’s 401(k) plan sued the plan administrator and the plan’s investment committee, alleging that defendants engaged in prohibited transactions and breached their duty of prudence by failing to investigate and evaluate all compensation earned by the plan’s longtime recordkeeper. The claims apparently were prompted by amendments to AT&T’s contract with its recordkeeper, which gave plan participants access to the recordkeeper’s brokerage account platform and to investment advisory services through a third-party advisor. Under these arrangements, the recordkeeper received revenue-sharing fees from the mutual funds available to participants via the brokerage account platform; and, through its own agreement with the investment advisor, the recordkeeper received a portion of the fees that the investment advisor earned from managing participant accounts.

On September 1, 2023, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 699, which amends California Business & Professions Code Section 16600 to prohibit an employer from entering into or attempting to enforce a non-compete agreement regardless of whether the contract was signed outside of California.  The law goes into effect on January 1, 2024.

Previously, California law banned non-compete agreements, subject to limited exceptions.  Section 16600 of the California Business and Profession Code states that “every contract by which anyone is restrained from engaging in a lawful profession, trade, or business of any kind is to that extent void.”  By adding Section 16600.5 to the Business & Professions Code, SB 699 expands the restrictions on non-compete agreements to contracts entered outside of California.