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United States > Labor and employment > ERISA litigation > Law firm and leading lawyer rankings


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  1. ERISA litigation
  2. Leading lawyers

Leading lawyers

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The team at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP provides ‘unmatched excellence and outstanding service through top-notch response times, advice, team depth and industry knowledge’. Allyson Ho and Randall Tracht, based in Dallas and Pittsburgh respectively, successfully represented the employer in M&G Polymers v Tackett, in which the Supreme Court found that conventional contract law principles (rather than a presumption that benefits continue for life) apply where the duration of retiree healthcare provision is not made clear in the plan documentation. Chicago-based Deborah Davidson is defending Computer Sciences Corporation in a class action dispute regarding the company’s ‘top hat’ plan. Brian Ortelere and Jeremy Blumenfeld, both in the Philadelphia office, and Chicago-based senior counsel Charles Jackson are also key contacts. Gregory Braden has retired from the firm, while Azeez Hayne departed the Philadelphia office to become the general counsel of Urban Outfitters.

Proskauer Rose LLP has ‘an impressive firm culture and the ability to assemble a team that works together seamlessly and cooperatively’. In New Orleans, Howard Shapiro, along with senior counsels Stacey Cerrone and Robert Rachal, is representing a panoply of religion-associated hospital systems in litigation regarding their pension plans’ status as ERISA-exempt ‘church plans’; the firm was successful in such matters for Trinity Health and Ascension Health. The team also undertakes stock drop litigation, such as representing JCPenney and its board in one of the first such disputes in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Fifth Third Bank v Dudenhoeffer. In other work highlights, New York-based Myron Rumeld is representing private equity firm Renco Group in a case relating to a transaction that removed Renco’s responsibility for a funding gap in one of its portfolio companies’ pension plans, but is subject to adverse allegations by the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). Rumeld and Shapiro jointly lead the team.

Centered around Washington DC, Steptoe & Johnson LLP’s ‘top-notch’ ERISA litigation team provides ‘great service, tremendous experience and expertise that works very well with the client’s in-house team’, making it ‘a go-to firm for “bet-the-company” cases’. Key mandates saw Paul Ondrasik (‘a terrific courtroom lawyer with a great demeanor’), Morgan Hodgson (‘an outstanding lawyer that clients have no reservations about using for their most complex and significant cases’) and Eric Serron of the firm’s Washington office representing BP in a class action case regarding an alleged breach of fiduciary duty relating to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. On the West Coast, Ed Gregory and Jason Levin represented the California State Employees Retirement System (CalPERS) in a class action suit regarding same-sex spouses’ access to the long-term care plan. Melanie Nussdorf and Gwen Renigar, who share leadership of the practice with Ondrasik, handle disputes with regulators.

Covington & Burling LLP has a strong practice in appellate ERISA litigation at the apex of the federal court system. Head of the appellate and Supreme Court litigation team Robert Long represented Fifth Third Bancorp in the agenda-setting Fifth Third Bancorp v Dudenhoeffer Supreme Court case. Jeffrey Huvelle, the leader of the ERISA litigation practice, successfully represented Verizon in a suit brought by plan participants following an $8.5bn de-risking arrangement with Prudential Financial, and in another dispute regarding the spin-off of Verizon’s yellow pages operation into Supermedia, which went bankrupt.

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP regularly defends, among other claims, regulatory actions brought against pension funds and stock drops. Jason Schwartz and co-head of the firm’s labor and employment practice Eugene Scalia are representing Ford before the Sixth Circuit in Donati v Ford Motor Company, a dispute with the estate of a retiree, who sought to receive a larger sum that she was entitled to, based on a mistaken communication from the plan. William Kilberg is acting for the board of Kodak, as well as several of its senior executives, in a $34m stock drop case, while Geoffrey Sigler and Los Angeles’ Richard Doren successfully represented Microsoft in a class action dispute regarding compliance with the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act. Other than Doren, all named lawyers are located in Washington DC.

In Washington DC, single-office labor boutique Groom Law Group handles a range of regulatory matters regarding ERISA funds as well as class action litigation. Lars Golumbic and Sarah Adams defended two major religion-affiliated healthcare systems in class action disputes regarding their status as ‘church plans’ outside the aegis of ERISA. In the multi-employer plans field, Edward Meehan acted for a fund in a $100m withdrawal liability arbitration brought by an employer, while Mark Nielsen handles issues such as the Affordable Care Act’s connection to ERISA. Other clients include the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle NFL Players Retirement Plan, which of counsel Michael Junk represented in a dispute with players concerning retirement and disability benefits, Catholic Health Initiatives and M&T Bank.

At Miller & Chevalier Chartered, ‘clients know that they are getting the best possible effort, as does the other side’; the lawyers ‘put in the time and effort to learn the nuances of the client’s business and develop coherent and compelling arguments that can be quickly understood by a court not previously immersed in the arcane details’. A key part of the Washington DC-based practice revolves around novel health-related litigation, but the team also has experience in Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PGBC) regulatory issues relating to pension plans. Practice head Anthony Shelley, Timothy O’Toole and Michael Khalil, who ‘bring a special intelligence, patience and commitment to the table’, successfully defended Independence Blue Cross in a Seventh Circuit case regarding the eligibility of in-network healthcare providers for status as a beneficiary under ERISA. Theresa Gee joined the firm from O’Melveny & Myers LLP.

Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP’s ERISA disputes experience includes representing high-profile financial institutions in stock drop cases and fiduciary duty litigation. Lewis Clayton and Robert Fleder acted for Asahi Tec Corporation in a dispute with the PBGC concerning alleged unfunded pension liabilities relating to a bankrupt former US subsidiary. Clayton also defeated a fiduciary claim against Citigroup alongside firm chair Brad Karp. In the healthcare space, Fleder is defending Dave & Buster’s in a novel claim regarding ERISA’s anti-discrimination provision and alleged circumvention of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA)’s employer mandate. Other clients include JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley. Clayton and Karp jointly lead the practice, which is based in New York.

Seyfarth Shaw LLP’s ERISA litigators are ‘excellent: always available to assist and very knowledgeable’. The practice handles issues concerning multi-employer health and welfare plans, health coverage disputes and alleged breaches of fiduciary duty. Ward Kallstrom, Kevin Lesinski and Jonathan Braunstein of the California office defended the ILWU-PMA Welfare Plan and its trustees in a class action case. Further east Amanda Sonneborn, Ian Morrison, Ronald Kramer and Ada Dolph are key figures in the Chicago team. Other clients include the Pacific Gas & Electric Company, Henkel and US Foods. Sonneborn and Morrison jointly lead the practice.

Sidley Austin LLP has a strong practice defending financial institutions in 401(k) class action litigation, as well as acting for health and life insurance providers. Eric Mattson and Joel Feldman, both based in the firm’s Chicago office, successfully defended a class action ERISA claim brought against Principal Life Insurance. A multi-office team, including Anne Rea and Chris Meyer in Chicago and Carter Phillips and David Carpenter from the Washington and Los Angeles offices respectively, continues to represent Bank of America in a decade-long multi-faceted class action battle regarding the plan’s ‘normal retirement age’. On the insurance side, Feldman and Mark Blocker, who is also based in Chicago, acted for The Hartford in a class action dispute brought by Family Dollar employees alleging that the insurer subsidized sale of life cover sold to the company by overcharging for cover sold directly to the employees.

Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP’s ‘exceptional ERISA litigators prevail in difficult cases’ concerning the securities and bankruptcy aspects of health and pensions disputes with ERISA issues, as well as stock drop cases. ‘First-rate’ practice head Nicholas Pappas and Gregory Silbert from the firm’s litigation department recently represented UnitedHealth Group in litigation surrounding a physical therapy provider seeking to use ERISA as a method to obtain payment from plan providers, and also in a class action dispute regarding allegations of underpayment. Jonathan Polkes, in the firm’s securities litigation team, acted for Marsh & McLennan Companies in a dispute with two former executives regarding the legality under ERISA of the termination of their benefits when they were dismissed after refusing to co-operate with an internal investigation. All named lawyers are based in New York.

Baker McKenzie LLP’s Douglas Darch and Rick Hammett, based in Chicago and Houston respectively, continue to represent Whirlpool in a long-running class action case involving 2,100 retirees arguing that their health benefits were unchangeable. On the West Coast, San Francisco-based practice head James Baker acts for businesses in disputes regarding supposed refusal of health coverage and high-stakes withdrawal liability arbitrations. Other areas of work include medical claim payment issues and disputes between pension plans.

Goodwin Procter LLP’s ‘extremely responsive’ team represents financial institutions in 401(k) ‘excessive fee’ litigation and alleged self-dealing disputes, as well as more conventional stock drop cases. James Fleckner, Alison Douglass and Kevin Martin of the firm’s Boston office, along with William Jay in Washington DC, successfully defended John Hancock Financial Services in a complex class action dispute, which reached the Third Circuit and concerned the fee structures of investment products sold to retirement plans and the seller’s (absence of) status as a fiduciary under ERISA. Other clients include BNY Mellon, which the firm is representing in the Eastman Kodak stock drop case, and Prudential Financial.

Greenberg Traurig, LLP provides ‘superior service and results’. Atlanta’s Todd Wozniak is defending Stiefel Laboratories, a subsidiary of GlaxoSmithKline, in a claim brought by a former CFO alleging that the company breached its ERISA fiduciary duty and committed securities fraud after it purchased stock from him that was later valued significantly higher when the company was taken over. In Florham Park, Kristine Feher defends denial of benefits claims, and Robert Bernstein is ‘very responsive and practical’. Across the Hudson in New York, Jonathan Sulds, one of the firm’s global co-chairs of labor and employment, represents clients in withdrawal liability disputes, among other pension scheme matters.

McDermott Will & Emery LLP’s work includes representing corporates and financial institutions in withdrawal liability cases and 401(k) fee class action litigation. Chris Scheithauer, who divides his time between Irvine and Los Angeles, represented the Bank of America 401(k) plan in proceedings regarding the Countrywide Financial securities class action litigation; the matter was concluded by way of a settlement. Away from the West Coast, Chicago’s Bill Boies is acting for State Street Bank & Trust Company, which was the independent trustee of an ESOP, in a stock drop case regarding failure to sell General Motors shares before the company entered difficulties. Both lawyers mentioned also have expertise in healthcare-related ERISA disputes. Bobby Burchfield is now at King & Spalding LLP.

O’Melveny & Myers LLP represents 401(k) fiduciaries, as well as plans changing benefits and healthcare providers. Washington DC-based Brian Boyle and Shannon Barrett, along with Catalina Vergara from the firm’s Los Angeles office, are scheduled to represent three Transamerica companies in a class action dispute regarding fees and alleged self-dealing. Other welfare plan work saw Gregory Jacob successfully acting for NCR Corporation in a dispute regarding the substitution of actuarially-equivalent lump sums in favor of plan benefits. In the health field, Jacob and Boyle are representing UnitedHealth in a long-running class action case regarding the client’s methods of recovering overpayments made to healthcare providers. Other clients include Boeing and Fidelity Investments.

Alston & Bird LLP’s ERISA litigation team handles health and welfare plan disputes. The well-regarded Douglas Hinson, who splits his time between the firm’s Washington DC and Atlanta offices, leads the practice, which also includes Jonathan Rose in Washington DC, who was the chair of the American Bar Association’s Joint Committee on Employee Benefits. Past successes have seen the firm defending Dell against a class action dispute regarding an alleged breach of fiduciary duty as part of Michael Dell and Silver Lake Partners’ purchase of the company, and representing the state of Florida in a challenge to modifications to public sector pensions.

Arent Fox LLP’s Washington DC-located ERISA litigators have expertise in healthcare matters, pension bankruptcies, PBGC issues, stock drop cases and withdrawal liability. Recent work highlights saw Carol Connor Cohen and Caroline Turner English defending Terex Corporation in a class action stock drop suit alleging tens of millions of dollars of damage to the plan, which was settled for a seven-figure sum. On the plaintiff side, the two also represent the Official Committee of Retired Employees of Eastman Kodak Company, which is responsible for a voluntary employees’ beneficiary association that administers benefits to retired former employees. Other clients include Monsanto and Caldwell Tanks.

Dentons’ multi-city ERISA practice represents regulators and health insurers, as well as employers in pension disputes. Alan Gilbert, David Cowart and Stephen O’Brien are acting for Hanover Insurance Group in a class action dispute regarding alleged underpayments of lump sums from the company’s pension plan. Key figures also include Douglas Scullion, who handles ERISA-related insurance claim denial litigation, and Fruman Jacobson and Carole Neville, who are acting for PBGC on matters surrounding ERISA plans connected with American Airlines’ 2011-13 bankruptcy. The firm’s long-running work for the Official Retirees Committee for the City of Detroit has been successfully brought to a close, following the city’s exit from bankruptcy. Other clients include Humana and S.C. Johnson.

Jenner & Block LLP’s Chicago-based team has expertise in defending stock drop and breach of fiduciary duty class action claims. Practice heads Craig Martin and Amanda Amert are defending Dow Chemical Company in a putative class action case, which alleges a breach of ERISA’s ‘anti-cutback’ rules. The duo also successfully represented General Dynamics in a fiduciary duty case. Other clients include AON and Nuveen Asset Management; the firm acted for the latter in a class action case surrounding alleged breach of fiduciary duty by investing the plan exclusively in equities.

Jones Day’s practice represents businesses in withdrawal liability arbitrations as well as litigation concerning issues such as healthcare benefits. In Cleveland, Stanley Weiner is representing Axiall Corporation and Meggitt Aircraft Braking Systems Corporation in disputes surrounding eligibility for retiree medical benefits. Further east, Washington DC’s Evan Miller is representing The New York Times Company in an arbitration where the newspaper is challenging the legality of the method used to calculate withdrawal liability. Also in Washington DC, Donald Munro is acting for a coalition of railroads in a lawsuit regarding a Massachusetts sick leave law’s compatibility with ERISA. Other clients include Boeing.

King & Spalding LLP has a focus on defending energy and financial services companies in disputes with retirees. In Atlanta, David Tetrick is representing Peabody Energy Corporation in a stock drop case concerning ESOP programs in the beleaguered coal industry, and acting for SunTrust in a dispute regarding the bank’s own mutual funds’ role as part of the 401(k) plan’s roster of alternative investments. Washington DC-based Bobby Burchfield, who joined the firm from McDermott Will & Emery LLP, advises on retiree healthcare matters; his recent work highlights include appearing before the Sixth Circuit for Moen and CHN Industrial America in litigation in the wake of M&G Polymers concerning whether or not healthcare benefits are vested for life and unalterable.

Mayer Brown defends insurers, financial institutions and employers in health and welfare disputes. Chicago-based Nancy Ross, who is also active in retirement plan fiduciary duty matters, successfully represented Liberty Mutual, a provider of self-funded health plans, in litigation it brought against Vermont regarding a state law requiring disclosure of medical claims history from health insurers; the Second Circuit found that the legislation was pre-empted by ERISA. Washington DC-based Brian Netter represents businesses in ERISA fiduciary matters. Other clients include GEICO and Amgen.

Paul Hastings LLP defends corporates and pension funds in class action claims. New York’s Patrick Shea successfully represented IBM in a case relating to a transfer of health benefits to a Medicare health exchange. In Los Angeles, Stephen Harris was successful in an arbitration regarding severance benefits as part of a ‘top hat plan’ for Opus Bank. His work also includes defending cases brought by lone retirees. Other clients include Furniture Brands, which the firm advises on PBGC regulatory matters related to its bankruptcy. Harris, Shea and Mark Poerio collectively lead the global compensation, benefits and ERISA practice.

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