For many people, their employer-sponsored ERISA 401(k) or 403(b) retirement plan is their most valuable asset. Too often, however, the mutual funds and other investments offered by the plan charge employees excessive fees. Over time, these fees will drastically reduce the value of the employee’s retirement nest egg.
Many multi-billion dollar ERISA retirement plans have been sued by large, national law firms. But most smaller retirement plans have not been held accountable. The reason is simple: it hasn’t been cost-effective to sue a small to mid-size ERISA plan. We intend to change that.
There is a need for competent lawyers who are willing and able to tackle smaller to mid-market excessive fee cases. That’s why Williamson+York (Atlanta) and The James White Firm (Birmingham) have formed a strategic partnership, The ERISA Excessive Fee Litigation Group, for the purpose of pursuing excessive fee cases on behalf of participants in defined-contribution ERISA plans having assets ranging from $100 million to $1 billion.
In a recent whitepaper[i] cited by the fiduciary and legal press, corporate authors CHUBB and Groom Law Group noted a surge in excessive fee litigation, including an uptick in cases filed against smaller plans. One of the reasons for the increase, they say, is that inexperienced plaintiffs’ law firms are filing “cookie cutter” complaints that merely copy the complaints filed by more experienced firms.
We will not be filing any cookie-cutter complaints. The principals of the Group are competent, and willing and able to challenge the plan managers and service providers that charge excessive fees. We are former “Big Firm” lawyers with extensive experience in finance, securities and complex litigation. One of our group managed global securities trading for a major bank before becoming a lawyer; another wrote the R-code we use for the complex data analysis we use to evaluate every plan. We brought analytical expertise in-house by hiring a former Goldman Sachs analyst. We repeatedly and rigorously run our own numbers, so we know they are right even before we hire experts. We work closely with some of the most respected investment bankers and advisors in the Southeast to ensure we get the theory right. We use advanced technology to keep costs down.
Our efforts to investigate and sue mismanaged small and mid-size ERISA retirement plans are on-going. The White Firm has filed four class action lawsuits: Disselkamp et al. v. Norton Healthcare Inc. et al., U.S.D.C., W.D. Ky, No. 3:18-cv-00048; Ferguson v. BBVA USA Bancshares, Inc., et al., U.S.D.C., N.D. Ala., 19-cv-01135-MHH; Miller v. AutoZone, Inc., U.S.D.C., W.D. Tenn., 2:19-cv-02779; and Brown v. Daikin Am., Inc., U.S.D.C, S.D.N.Y., No. 1:18-cv-11091. The Group is currently investigating the Piedmont Columbus Regional Retirement Savings Plan f/k/a Columbus Regional Healthcare System Retirement Savings Plan and several other Georgia-based employer plans.
The authors of the whitepaper noted above correctly advise plan fiduciaries that they can protect themselves by “always act[ing] with care and undivided loyalty to the plan and its participants.” In other words, plan fiduciaries should act like fiduciaries. Our purpose is to protect employees from the ones who do not.
[i]“The War on Retirement Plan Fees: Is Anyone Safe?”