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ERISA Litigation

  • Overview
  • Attorneys & Professionals

Godfrey & Kahn's ERISA litigation team boasts some of Wisconsin's most experienced litigators and benefits professionals.

We have the depth to handle all types of benefits disputes, from individual claims to sophisticated class action suits against benefit plans, plan sponsors and fiduciaries. Our firm defends these claims by combining our knowledge of employee benefits law with our talented team of class action litigators and courtroom lawyers. Our dedication to ERISA litigation sets us apart from our peer firms.

Benefit plan fiduciaries, administrators and plan sponsors have increasingly been the target of the active and sophisticated plaintiff class action bar. The immense amount of capital held in employee benefit plans, and the complex and sometimes arcane legal and regulatory environment in which those plans operate, make plans and plan fiduciaries attractive targets. Recent decisions awarding attorney fees to plaintiffs' counsel, even in cases where negligible results were obtained, have further raised the stakes of these suits.

Unfortunately, multimillion dollar judgments and settlements are frequently reported in the legal press, and lawsuits related to employee benefits have become an all too common fact of life for both public and privately held companies, across all industries. Indeed, as health care and retirement savings continue to be among the most important issues facing America's workforce, it is not surprising that ERISA litigation is on the rise.

Our ERISA litigators attend national seminars to keep abreast of developments in ERISA litigation and are regular speakers and publishers of articles on ERISA litigation issues and trends. As a result, we are uniquely positioned to defend our clients against the complex allegations favored by plaintiff class action counsel.


Our team has enjoyed tremendous success in defending our clients' interests. Our courtroom accomplishments include:

  • Plan Valuation – We successfully defended a retirement benefit plan against breach of fiduciary duty claims alleging that the plan improperly and fraudulently valued its assets after receiving requests for lump sum distributions. In this case, the plaintiffs sought to use a valuation date that was more favorable than that disclosed in plan documents. The court ultimately accepted our argument that the plan sponsor and its fiduciaries properly valued and distributed the benefits sought by the plaintiffs.
  • Service Provider Liability
    • We successfully defended a third-party administrator against claims that it breached fiduciary duties in the processing and payment of thousands of claims under hundreds of welfare benefit plans. The plaintiffs in this putative class action alleged that the Third Party Administration (TPA) violated various claims handling regulations enacted pursuant to ERISA related to pre-service claims. The court accepted our argument that the plaintiffs were not entitled to the relief they sought.
    • In another matter, we successfully resolved a case involving allegations that a service provider failed to properly value mutual fund shares held within the client's defined contribution retirement plan. In this case, we were able to achieve a favorable settlement through direct negotiation, prior to incurring substantial litigation costs. The settlement avoided protracted litigation with plan participants and beneficiaries.
  • Cash Balance Conversion – We defended a pension plan and its sponsor in a class action alleging liability arising from the conversion of the plan to a cash balance plan. In this matter, the purported plaintiff class alleged that the plan was not properly converted and that the conversion violated anti-cutback and other ERISA requirements.
  • Breach of Fiduciary Duty
    • In a precedent victory, we successfully defended a defined benefit plan and its sponsor in a suit alleging breach of fiduciary duty related to the payment of lump sum distributions to plan participants. In this case, the plaintiffs alleged that the plan terms improperly coerced them into taking their accrued benefit in the form of a lump sum, rather than as an annuity at normal retirement age. The court dismissed the plaintiffs' claims in their entirety, prior to class certification, and awarded our client its costs and fees pursuant to ERISA. The dismissal was affirmed on appeal by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.
    • We successfully represented a plan's pension committee in a suit alleging self-dealing and fraud. In this case, the plaintiffs alleged that a plan benefits committee paid lump sum distributions improperly, in violation of its duty to administer the plan for the exclusive benefit of participants and beneficiaries. The court accepted our argument that a deferential standard of review applied and dismissed the plaintiffs' claims.
    • In another case, we defended a plan administrator against allegations that he defrauded a participant by concealing and failing to honor a domestic relations order (DRO) purporting to establish an interest in a defined benefit pension plan. The matter was successfully resolved before incurring substantial litigation costs and the claims ultimately were dismissed.
  • Company-Wide Claims Handling Litigation – We represented a health insurance carrier against allegations that its standard policy violates state mandates found in Wisconsin's insurance code. In this purported class action lawsuit, the plaintiffs alleged that the defendant insurer breached fiduciary and other duties under ERISA by failing to provide required coverage related to specialty physician care.
  • Welfare Benefit Plan Litigation – We have represented clients in cases alleging improper claims handling practices under employer-sponsored welfare benefit plans. For example, we successfully defended a TPA against allegations that it administered claims improperly, resulting in a lost stop-loss recovery by the plaintiff plan. The three-person arbitration panel hearing the case unanimously rejected all claims against our client, accepting our argument that the disputed claims were correctly processed.

Defending our clients' interests is our top priority. We recognize, however, that successful outcomes almost always involve considerations of litigation efficiency. We look for ways to win or resolve every dispute at the earliest possible stage. Our collaborative approach keeps our clients' interests paramount.

Insurance Arrangements

In many matters, we work closely with a client's fiduciary liability insurance carrier to provide an effective and efficient defense. We are familiar with carriers' practices and expectations and are proud of the confidence we have earned with many major carriers.

Todd Cleary

Cleary, Todd M.

John Donahue

Donahue, John E.

Of Counsel
Paul Heaton

Heaton, Paul F.

Linda Schmidt

Schmidt, Linda S.

Special Counsel
Todd Smith

Smith, Todd G.

General Counsel

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