Author Topic: Supreme Court rules on 401(k) - sue your employer  (Read 2626 times)


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Supreme Court rules on 401(k) - sue your employer
« on: May 18, 2015, 02:02:53 PM »
Short version is an employer can be sued by employees for providing high fee options in the 401(k) suite.

Probably won't affect many people directly but indirectly could put a lot of heat on companies to act as fiduciaries.


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Re: Supreme Court rules on 401(k) - sue your employer
« Reply #1 on: May 18, 2015, 02:20:08 PM »
I like my options.

Russell 1k index fund with an E.R. of 0.03% and Russell 2k index fund with an E.R. of 0.05%. The only option that I have that is kind of expensive is my international equity fund, which is 0.47%. A little high, but international funds are typically a little pricier.

In earlier companies I used to only have access to managed mutual funds with E.R.s near 1. That was not fun.

Dr. A

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Re: Supreme Court rules on 401(k) - sue your employer
« Reply #2 on: May 18, 2015, 02:50:19 PM »
Actual decision is here, only 9 pages:

The case is a little narrower than some of the headlines indicate. Basically, there is a 6-year statute of limitations on suing over breach of fiduciary duty. The company argued that since the employees sued more than 6 years after the funds were initially selected, no lawsuit for you. Employees said, "No, no. As our fiduciary you are obligated to regularly monitor our investments, so the 6 year clock re-starts on a regular basis." All 9 Justices agreed with the employees.

The lawsuit itself claimed that the employer was obligated to switch the plan from higher-fee retail mutual funds to identical lower-fee institutional funds (i.e. Vanguard Admiral vs. Vanguard Institutional) once the company's 401k balance was big enough to qualify. 6 of those funds were selected in 2002, 3 of them in 1999, and the suit was filed in 2007. The lower court ruled for the employees on the 6 funds, but said they weren't allowed to sue over the 3 funds because 6 years had passed. That last part is what SCOTUS overruled.

In any event, not a bad thing for employees at all.


PPS - Everyone else thinks that acronym is really dirty, right?
« Last Edit: May 18, 2015, 02:53:37 PM by Dr. A »


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Re: Supreme Court rules on 401(k) - sue your employer
« Reply #3 on: May 18, 2015, 06:52:53 PM »
Dr. A is right that the Supreme Court opinion has a very narrow holding. In fact, it's not even accurate to say that the Supreme Court "reversed" the Ninth Circuit. In the syllabus, you'll notice it says "vacated and remanded" (rather than "reversed") and here's why:

At trial, the plaintiffs argued that the limitations period started anew each time there was a change of circumstances that would force the employer to re-evaluate the merits of the funds. The trial court and the Ninth Circuit both dismissed the relevant claims on the basis that no such change of circumstances had actually been established. According to the Supreme Court, the Ninth Circuit fell into error by deciding the case on that basis without considering the "common law of trusts" which imposes a continuing duty of prudence on the employer.

By the time the case reached the Supreme Court, all parties agreed that the Ninth Circuit's analysis was incomplete. The Supreme Court thus remanded the case to the Ninth Circuit to consider (i) whether plaintiffs had properly preserved the more general argument not based on a change of circumstances, and (ii) if so, whether the more general argument resolved the case in favour of plaintiffs. The Supreme Court declined to opine on either point, noting that, "[w]e express no view on the scope of respondents' fiduciary duty in this case".

The Supreme Court's choice to leave the preservation issue to the Ninth Circuit on remand is interesting because if the argument turns out not to have been preserved, then the Supreme Court actually had nothing to rule on in the first place.

In any case, it's accurate to say that this opinion stands for a very narrow proposition of law, namely that a Court considering a claim for breach of fiduciary duty under ERISA must consider the "common law of trusts" and any duties imposed thereby in disposing of the claim. The core holding of the case was the Ninth Circuit had failed to consider all the relevant law. The Supreme Court noted in several places that on remand, the Ninth Circuit might still dismiss the disputed claims.
« Last Edit: May 18, 2015, 07:24:58 PM by Cathy »


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