Individual Fiduciary Liability

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (“ERISA”), requires trustees of multiemployer pension and benefit funds to collect contributions required to be made by contributing employers under their collective bargaining agreements (“CBAs”) with the labor union sponsoring the plans. This is not always an easy task—often, an employer is an incorporated entity with limited assets or financial resources to satisfy its contractual obligations. In some instances, an employer will resort to filing for bankruptcy to obtain a discharge of its debts to the pension or benefit funds.

In a distinct trend, federal courts have found that, depending on the text of the underlying plan documents, unpaid employer contributions due under a CBA may be viewed as plan assets, such that the representatives of an employer who exercise fiduciary control over those plan assets can be held individually liable for the unpaid amounts (together with interest and penalties) under ERISA. These cases will no doubt help plan trustees and administrators collect monies owed to the plan. They also should serve as cautionary warnings to contributing employers to ensure that they fully understand the obligations that they are undertaking when they agree to contribute to ERISA funds pursuant to CBAs.