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Jean Tomasco's practice involves employer counseling and employment litigation, with an emphasis on ERISA and benefits litigation. Ms. Tomasco represents employers before state and federal courts and administrative agencies, including the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities. She has defended employers against all types of employment-related claims, including discrimination and wrongful discharge claims. Ms. Tomasco also counsels employers on a variety of employment matters, including hiring practices, termination of employees, employment-related immigration issues, unemployment compensation issues, wage and hour matters, drug testing, and personnel policies and handbooks. Read her full rc.com bio here.

A federal District Court judge in Illinois sided with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) in ordering Alight Solutions, LLC, an ERISA plan services provider, to comply with an administrative subpoena seeking documents pertaining to alleged cybersecurity breaches. The Court’s order in the case, Walsh v. Alight Solutions, LLC, Dkt. # 20-cv-02138 (N.D. Ill.), is significant as it mandated production of a great deal of information concerning Alight’s cybersecurity practices, finding Alight’s objections on grounds of irrelevance and burdensomeness insufficient to overcome the DOL’s broad investigatory authority and the presumption that investigative subpoenas should be enforced.

According to the Court’s order, the DOL’s investigation of Alight began back in July 2019 based in part on its discovery that Alight had processed unauthorized distributions from its ERISA plan clients’ accounts as a result of cybersecurity breaches and, further, had failed to promptly report the breaches and restore the unauthorized distributions to the affected accounts. DOL’s subpoena sought documents on a number of topics, including Alight’s cybersecurity policies, procedures, assessment reports, and training of its workforce; its business continuity plans pertaining to information security; and communications or other documents regarding any cybersecurity incident pertaining to its ERISA plan clients, dating back to 2015.
Continue Reading District Court Enforces DOL Investigative Subpoena Against Plan Service Provider Concerning Alleged Cybersecurity Breaches

ERISA-covered plans hold millions of dollars or more in assets and maintain a large amount of personal data on participants, therefore, such plans can be tempting targets for cyber-criminals. Recognizing this, the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) of the U.S. Department of Labor issued its first-ever cybersecurity guidance concerning employee benefit plans this spring.  Further, in June 2021, just two months after issuing the guidance, government investigators began seeking information from plan sponsors about cybersecurity policies and procedures.  While such requests thus far have been limited to ongoing audits, plan sponsors and fiduciaries would be wise to review EBSA’s guidance and implement its suggestions as appropriate.

The EBSA guidance, which is directed to plan sponsors and fiduciaries as well as recordkeepers and plan participants, is set forth in three separate publications.
Continue Reading Department of Labor Focuses on Cybersecurity for Benefit Plans

On February 26, 2021, the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) released Notice 2021-01 (2021 Relief Notice) providing guidance to employers, claim administrators and fiduciaries of ERISA plans on the duration of the COVID-19-related relief set forth in a 2020 Notice that suspended, among other things, certain ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act) claim-related deadlines (referred

In a recent summary order in an ERISA LTD benefits case, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a plaintiff’s appeal concerning the amount of attorneys’ fees awarded by the district court. In Solnin v. Sun Life and Health Insurance Co. et al., after plaintiff prevailed on her claim for benefits, her counsel filed a motion seeking attorneys’ fees of over $515,000, along with costs and interest. Plaintiff’s attorneys, who had their offices in Manhattan (Southern District of New York), argued that their rates should be fixed at Southern District rates, rather than the typically lower rates used in the Eastern District of New York where the case was litigated. The District Court (Hurley, J.) determined that the local rates for the Eastern District should apply. The District Court also found that a 25 percent across-the-board reduction in fees was appropriate given that plaintiff’s counsel had engaged in “impermissible billing practices” including vague descriptions, block billing, and questionable entries, and further noting that decisions in similar cases seemed to suggest that the firm had “a pattern of excessive billing for their time considering their experience.” Solnin I, 2018 WL 4853046 (E.D.N.Y., Sept. 28, 2018). The District Court ultimately awarded slightly over $222,000 in fees, instead of the $500,000-plus that plaintiff had requested.
Continue Reading Second Circuit Upholds Reduction of Attorneys’ Fees Sought in ERISA Benefits Case

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals recently issued an opinion in Frommert v. Conkright, affirming a district court decision regarding appropriate equitable remedies under ERISA and the amount of prejudgment interest to be applied. The Second Circuit’s views on each of these issues should be of interest to plan fiduciaries as well as practitioners.

This litigation has a long history, dating back to 1999, and has generated many court opinions along the way, from the district court level all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. Indeed, this is the Second Circuit’s fourth decision in this case. (Readers are likely familiar with this case from the 2010 Supreme Court decision, which addressed the standard of review and held that an honest mistake does not strip a plan administrator of the deference otherwise granted to it to construe plan terms.)

By means of background, the litigation was initiated by Xerox employees who had left the company in the 1980s, received distributions of the retirement benefits they had earned up to that point, and who were subsequently rehired by Xerox. In addition to the issues concerning interpretation of the Plan and related documents, the primary focus of the case was how to account for the employees’ past distributions when calculating their current benefits so as to avoid a “double payment” windfall.
Continue Reading Second Circuit Upholds District Court’s Choice of Equitable Remedies Under ERISA and Its Decision to Award Prejudgment Interest at the Federal Prime Rate

On July 3, 2018, a District Court in Alabama upheld, on reconsideration, its initial decision to dismiss a plaintiff’s breach of fiduciary duty claim under ERISA § 502(a)(3), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(3), finding that ERISA § 502(a)(1)(B), 29 U.S.C. § 1132(a)(1)(B), provided the plaintiff with an adequate remedy. This decision adds to the growing amount of case law regarding whether—and when—a breach of fiduciary duty claim should be dismissed in benefit claim litigation.
Continue Reading Court Upholds Dismissal of Breach of Fiduciary Claim, Finding Plaintiff Had an Adequate Remedy Under ERISA § 501(a)(1)(B)

In a recent news release, the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) of the U.S. Department of Labor confirmed that its final rule amending the disability claims procedure requirements applicable to ERISA-covered employee benefit plans (the “Final Rule”) will go into effect on April 1, 2018.

Continue Reading No Fooling: U.S. Department of Labor Confirms That The Disability Claims Regulations Will Go Into Effect on April 1, 2018 Without Further Delay or Modification

In today’s Federal Register, the Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) of the U.S. Department of Labor has published its notice delaying, by 90 days, the applicable date of its final rule amending the disability claims procedure requirements applicable to ERISA-covered employee benefit plans (the “Final Rule”). The new claims procedures had initially been set to become applicable on January 1, 2018.  That date has now been delayed to April 1, 2018.

The new claims procedures of the Final Rule apply to all ERISA plans that provide disability benefits, which include not only short-term and long-term disability plans but also other types of ERISA plans with disability provisions, such as many retirement plans. The purpose of the delay is to provide EBSA with time to consider the Final Rule’s impact on the group disability insurance market, in light of President Trump’s Executive Order 13777 directing federal agencies to evaluate regulations (with input from affected entities) with an eye toward reducing regulatory burden and expense.
Continue Reading EBSA Formally Extends Applicability Date of Disability Claims Regulations to April 1, 2018; Time to Comment on the Regulations Ends Soon

In Hannan v. Hartford Financial Services, Inc., (2d Cir., April 25, 2017), the Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal of a potential ERISA class action against Family Dollar Stores, its employee benefits plan, and the plan’s group life insurance provider (Hartford), rejecting allegations by plan participants that the plan defendants had engaged in a so-called “cross-subsidization” scheme in violation of federal law. The Second Circuit confirmed that neither the negotiation of premium rates nor any alleged subsidization component between different types of life insurance provided under the plan constituted a breach of fiduciary duty or prohibited transaction under ERISA.

The background facts, as alleged in the complaint and summarized in the court decisions, are as follows. Family Dollar contracted with Hartford to provide group life insurance coverage to employees under the Family Dollar Stores, Inc. Group Insurance Plan (the “Plan”).  All employees were automatically enrolled in basic life insurance under the Plan at no cost to them. They also were offered the option (but were not obligated) to purchase supplemental life insurance coverage for which they would pay the premiums. 
Continue Reading Second Circuit Upholds Dismissal of ERISA Claims Against Plan Defendants for Alleged “Cross-Subsidization” Scheme