One of the many pleasures of being an EBC co-chair is to report on the success of the latest Midwinter Meeting. So here goes: The 2020 Midwinter Meeting, held February 5-8 in Palm Springs, California was a great success. Two hundred thirty-three employee benefits attorneys from across the country participated this year.
As always, our activities began Wednesday evening with an opportunity for old and new friends and colleagues to get together during the opening reception. Our first day of programming opened Thursday morning with the deservedly popular “Top Ten Employee Benefits Topics…. A Mile-High View of What Happened…in the Benefits World” in 2019. The morning continued with two excellent panels exploring the Supreme Court’s undying affection for ERISA, as expressed in the numerous matters the Court is taking up during the current term, including a review of pleading standards in Jander v. IBM and an exploration of standing in Thole v. U.S. Bank. Excellent breakout sessions followed covering, among other things, multiemployer topics and DC Plan investment litigation.
On Friday morning we made our important annual visit to the subject of arbitration and ERISA in “To Arbitrate or Not to Arbitrate” (that is the question), after which we were delighted to hear from Assistant Secretary of Labor Preston Rutledge concerning EBSA “Priorities and Initiatives.” The programming continued with the usual excellent Ethics panel, and valuable breakout sessions, which explored, among other interesting topics, “Fact of Fiction? Challenges to Mortality Assumptions in Calculating Alternative Forms of Benefit” and “Service Provider Contracts: Fees and Offsetting.” The excellent program concluded Saturday morning with, among other important presentations, a wide-ranging discussion of “Challenges to Retirement Security in the 21st Century.” Great stuff from start to finish, as usual. And, as always, the Midwinter Meeting provided unique opportunities for networking with members of all affiliations -- plaintiff, management, union and public.
So, it’s no wonder that our Midwinter Meeting continues to the best-attended Committee meeting in the Section. We thank, again, the tireless and excellent work of the Programming Committee, expertly led this year by Denise Clark and Russ Hirschhorn.
And, in addition to the great programming, there are other splendid events and accomplishments to acknowledge throughout the weekend, including:
- This year’s EBC’s pro bono project raised an astonishing $21,400 for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (“CHIRLA”). Thank you to everyone who contributed, and particularly to Pro Bono Subcommittee members Ruben Hernandez, Sara Pikofsky, Pete Dickinson and Todd Jackson, whose work made possible this outstanding accomplishment.
- The Diversity Committee put on another terrific and very well-attended program over lunch on Thursday, this year featuring Kori Carew, Chief Inclusion and Diversity Officer of Seyfarth Shaw, who showed us how to begin to be courageous and inclusive leaders in addressing the many biases we confront in our varied organizations. Our thanks to Ms. Carew, to the Diversity and Inclusion Committee -- Clarissa Kang, Ada Dolph, Marcelle Henry, Martina Sherman and Syretta Martin -- for its continuing important work, and to event sponsors, Seyfarth Shaw LLP, Trucker Huss APC, Debofsky, Casciari and Sherman, PC, Springer Ayeni, PLC and Spear Wilderman, PC.
- The Women’s Lunch (thank you to Proskauer Rose for its continued sponsorship) was, yet again, a smashing success. As always, this lunch provided a casual networking opportunity for the growing number of female ERISA attorneys who attend the meeting.
Finally, no MWM summary is complete without an acknowledgement of the outstanding work of Section Director Brad Hoffman and his colleagues, without whom none of this would be possible. Thanks to all of you! Of course, as great as the MWM was, the EBC has other successes to celebrate as well: We mark with equal pleasure the publication late last year of the 2019 Cumulative Supplement to Employee Benefits Law’s Fourth Edition, published by the Section of Labor and Employment Law and Bloomberg Law. Congratulations and thanks to the dozens of Committee members who wrote and edited each chapter, and particularly to Editor-In-Chief Mary Ellen Signorille, and to Co-Chairs Erin Riley, Brian Dougherty, Lisa Gomez and Ian Morrison, for their collective accomplishment. As always, we encourage all of you to contribute (or to continue to contribute) to the Employee Benefits Law treatise, the Committee’s crown jewel, as you all are well-aware. This resource would not exist without the efforts of volunteers from all constituencies. If you are not involved but would like to be . . . well, what are you waiting for? Please contact one of us, and we will guide you appropriately.
Looking ahead, it’s not too late to sign up for the JCEB ERISA Basics Webinar Series, converted from the usual in-person format and to be held June 15-17. We have adjusted “Basics” for our present socially-distanced world, and look forward to an excellent turnout and series. More information is available here. We encourage attendance by your new attorneys and any attorneys that might want an ERISA refresher.
We hope to see you all throughout the year and, of course, at the next Employee Benefits Committee Midwinter Meeting in San Juan, Puerto Rico, February 3-6, 2021.
Cassie Springer Ayeni