August 28, 2014 Articles

Defense Strategies for ERISA Class Actions

Entering this realm of class actions can feel a bit like waking up in the Land of Oz.

By Jeffrey D. Gardner

Entering the world of ERISA class actions, even for the most experienced class action practitioner, can feel a bit like waking up in the Land of Oz. ERISA is an acronym for the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. See 29 U.S.C. § 1001 et seq. These laws were designed to provide protections for employee pensions and other benefits. ERISA identifies multiple causes of action, but plaintiffs routinely bring claims alleging breach of fiduciary duties under section 502(a)(2), claims for benefits due to plan participants or beneficiaries under section 502(a)(1)(B), claims for penalties under section 502(a)(1)(A), and equitable relief claims under section 502(a)(3)’s “catchall” provision. The laws are broad, the theories of liability are varied, significant inconsistencies and gaps exist in case authority, and traditional approaches to defending class actions do not necessarily fit—or fit in the same way—in ERISA class actions. Defense practitioners should consider the following blend of traditional and ERISA-specific strategies in defending against these unique class actions.

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