Third Annual ERISA, Employee Benefits, and Social Insurance National Conference

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Category: Labor & Employment Law, Marquette Law School, Public
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This has been a busy semester for the Labor and Employment Law Program at Marquette University Law School.  In addition to the Speaker Series I wrote about yesterday, we are also honored to be hosting the Third Annual ERISA, Employee Benefits and Social Insurance National Conference (program at this link) on March 28, 2014 (this follows  wonderful ERISA conferences at Washington University Law and Michigan Business the two previous years).

To say we have an embarrassment of riches does not quite capture the remarkable array of papers that are to be presented.  When you add a terrific luncheon keynote speaker in the person of Assistant Secretary of Labor for the Employee Benefit Security Administration Phyllis Borzi, the cool factor (even for ERISA) is off the charts.

Panels include papers on ERISA claim and plan issues, the Affordable Care Act and ERISA, the future of public pension plans and other non-ERISA pension plans here and abroad, bankruptcy issues surrounding pensions and other legacy costs, and emerging challenges for social insurance and pension programs.

Should be a great program! Read more »

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New Speaker Series in Labor and Employment Law

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Category: Labor & Employment Law, Public, Speakers at Marquette
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I am excited to announce the kick-off of a new speaker series in labor and employment law, sponsored by the Labor and Employment Law Program at Marquette University Law School.

We are really starting the program off with a bang.

On March 17th, Sam Estreicher (NYU Law) will be debating yours truly on his new labor law reform proposal, “Easy In, Easy Out” (details about that proposal here). You can register here.

On March 27th, in conjunction with the Third Annual ERISA National Conference at Marquette, Assistant Secretary of Labor and head of the Employee Benefit Security Administration (EBSA) Phyllis Borzi will be speaking about the Affordable Care Act. You can register here.

Finally, on April 8th, Professor Takashi Araki, former Dean and Professor of Law at the University of Tokyo Law School and Visiting Professor this semester at Harvard Law School, will be coming to speak about contemporary topics in Japanese employment law.  You can register here.

All events are scheduled at noon and include lunch. Read more »

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Unanimous Supreme Court in Heimeshoff Permits Contractually-Based SOLs in ERISA Denial of Benefit Cases

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CourtThis morning, the United States Supreme Court issued its decision in Heimeshoff v. Hartford Life & Accidental Life Ins. Co., concerning statute of limitation accrual issues for benefit claims under Section 502(a)(1)(B) of ERISA.

The Court unanimously held that Hartford’s Long Term Disability Plan’s requirement that any suit to recover benefits be filed within three years after “proof of loss” is due is enforceable.  More specifically, “[a]bsent a controlling statute to the contrary, a participant and a plan may agree by contract to a particular limita­tions period, even one that starts to run before the cause of action accrues, as long as the period is reasonable.”  Causes of action for benefits under ERISA do not start to accrue until a final internal appeal decision.  Because Heimeshoff failed to file a claim for long-term disability ben­efits with Hartford within the contractual SOL period, the Court concluded her claim was rightfully denied by Hartford.

While ERISA does not provide a statute of limitations for denial of benefit claims, many plan administrators have in place a contractual 3-year limitations period like Hartford’s.  Read more »

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6th Circuit: ERISA Remedy for Wrongful Denial of Benefits May Include Disgorgement Remedy Under Section 502(a)(3)

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gavelThanks to Mark DeBofsky for bringing to my attention a potentially game-changing ERISA legal remedies case, Rochow v. Life Insurance Co. of North America (6th Cir. Dec. 6, 2013).

Without seeking to lay out the byzantine world of ERISA remedial law, the important question in the case is whether a plaintiff can maintain both a Section 502(a)(1)(B) claim for benefits and Section 502(a)(3) claim for breach of fiduciary at the same time.  If so, the question remains whether disgorgement of profits is cognizable remedy under Section 502(a)(3) against the insurance company for failure to pay the benefits on a timely basis.

It seems like this is the important holding by the 2-1 majority: “[W]e hold that disgorgement is an appropriate equitable remedy under § 502(a)(3) and can provide a separate remedy on top of a benefit recovery.”  This is a welcome development for ERISA plaintiffs and their attorneys, as ERISA’s remedial scheme has been narrowly construed over the years to prevent plaintiffs from receiving full recovery for their losses.

The debate going forward is whether the Supreme Court’s Varity case allows this outcome. Read more »

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Zelinsky: Use of HSAs and HRAs as Compromise to ACA Contraceptive Mandate Dispute

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Category: First Amendment, Health Care, Labor & Employment Law, Public, Religion & Law
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stethoscopeEd Zelinsky (Cardozo) has an interesting post on his OUP blog discussing a possible compromise in the on-going dispute between for-profit religious corporations, like Hobby Lobby, and the Obama administration’s Affordable Care Act’s (ACA’s) contraceptive coverage mandate.

Here’s a taste:

This entire controversy is unnecessary. The tax law contains devices for reconciling the religious concerns of employers like Hobby Lobby with the policy of expanding medical coverage: health savings accounts (HSAs) and health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs). The current regulatory exemption from the contraception mandate should be amended to include for-profit employers and to exempt from the federal contraception mandate employers (both non-profit and profit-making) who maintain HSAs or HRAs for their respective employees. Compromise along these lines would respect the genuinely-held views of religious minorities while implementing the federal policy of broadening access to health care.

An HSA/HRA compromise would eliminate the complicity of religious employers in the provision of contraception methods to which they object while enabling such employers’ employees to obtain on a pre-tax basis any medicines or devices such employees want, including contraception to which their employers object. Employers’ payments into their employees’ HSAs and HRAs would be the equivalent of the cash wages paid to such employees, wages which the employees are free to spend as they choose.

Personally, I do not see a RFRA or free exercise problem with ACA’s mandate because it is not a law that targets religion or otherwise substantially burdens religious rights of individuals. Read more »

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Much ERISA Fun at the Supreme Court Today: Heimeshoff and Benefit SOL Accrual Issues

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Supreme_CourtOK, hold onto your seats for some flat-out ERISA law excitement. This morning, the United States Supreme Court heard oral argument in Heimeshoff v. Hartford Life & Accidental Insurance Co. [Briefs at SCOTUSblog], concerning statute of limitation accrual issues for benefit claims under Section 502(a)(1)(B) of ERISA.

RossRunkel.com, as always, gets to the heart of the matter (which is really impressive when you consider it is ERISA after all):

Heimeshoff’s disability policy, administered by Hartford, says that a court suit for wrongful denial of benefits has to be filed within three years of when the claimant files a proof of loss with the plan administrator.

That can be tough, given the fact that it’s possible for the three-year period to begin to run before the claimant has gone through the administrative procedure that must be followed before bring a suit. I suppose it’s even possible in some cases that the three years would run out before the claimant got a final denial. Read more »

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SEC Issues Rule on CEO-to-Worker Pay Ratio Disclosures

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Category: Corporate Law, Labor & Employment Law, Public
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money_bag_svgLast week, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) released a rule requiring companies to disclose the CEO-to-worker pay ratio.  Despite objections by many corporations, the rule covers all employees including seasonal, international, and part-time workers.  The SEC provides companies the option of using the entire workforce or a representative sample in the calculation.

There will now be a 60-day comment period.  The SEC voted for the rule 3-2, with the two Republican Commissioners who voted against the proposal calling it a special interest provision and proclaiming “shame on the SEC.”

Proponents of the rule argue that it will give shareholders and other stakeholders a clear line of sight into human capital management and worker pay.  Read more »

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4th Cir: Liking on Facebook Is Protected First Amendment Activity

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Category: Computer Law, First Amendment, Labor & Employment Law, Public
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facebook likeSome of you may recall a case from Virginia in August of last year concerning whether, in a public sector First Amendment case involving political activities, liking someone or something on Facebook counted as protected First Amendment speech.  I said it most certainly did in the ABA Journal at the time, even though the district judge said it certainly did not.

Yesterday, the Fourth Circuit made the world right again by finding that liking a candidate’s campaign page on Facebook was in fact protected First Amendment speech.

Here is the link to the 4th Circuit’s decision (2-1) in Bland v. RobertsAnd here is the pertinent language from the Court’s opinion:

On the most basic level, clicking on the “like” button literally causes to be published the statement that the User “likes” something, which is itself a substantive statement. In the context of a political campaign’s Facebook page, the meaning that the user approves of the candidacy whose page is being liked is unmistakable. That a user may use a single mouse click to produce that message that he likes the page instead of typing the same message with several individual key strokes is of no constitutional significance.

Bill Herbert has written on these First Amendment issues involving social networking by public employees in Can’t Escape from the Memory:  Social Media and Public Sector Labor Law.  The article has now been published in North Kentucky Law Review as part of the  Law + Informatics Symposium on Labor and Employment Issues.  A shout out to Jon Garon, Director of the Law + Informatics Institute at NKU, for organizing this very worthwhile event. Read more »

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An Analysis of the 7th Circuit’s Wisconsin Act 10 Anti-Public Sector Collective Bargaining Law Decision

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Category: Labor & Employment Law, Public, Wisconsin Law & Legal System
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On Friday last week, the 7th Circuit in Wisconsin Education Association Council vs. Walker (7th Cir. Jan, 18, 2013), affirmed in part and reversed in part the Western District of Wisconsin’s decision in the same case.

The case involves the now-infamous Wisconsin Act 10, which came to international prominence in February 2011 when Wisconsin Governer Scott Walker, under the pretense of a budget crisis, sought to attack public unions by passing legislation which would deny collective bargaining rights to most public sector employees in the state.

That only “most” public sector workers in Wisconsin were covered by Act 10 – most general public sector employees were, but most public safety workers were not – became the basis of the federal constitutional challenges under the First Amendment free speech clause and the equal protection clause in this case.

The Western District of Wisconsin held that Act 10′s distinctions between different types of employees passed constitutional muster as far as the general anti-collective bargaining measure because it met the low-threshold rational basis review standard (there was a legitimate reason for such distinctions). On the other hand, the District Court struck down the anti-dues checkoff and punitive recertification provisions of the law as being without any legitimate basis. Read more »

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Some Thoughts on the Meaning of a Second Obama Term for Labor and Employment Law

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Category: Labor & Employment Law, Political Processes & Rhetoric, President & Executive Branch, Public
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In light of President Obama’s resounding re-election victory last night, and other developments in political races down the ticket, here are some of my initial thoughts on what might happen in the labor and employment law area during a second Obama administration:

First, I think the verdict is still very much out on  whether there will be any significant changes regarding labor and employment legal initiatives in President Obama’s second term.  It is interesting that the President did not spend too much time during the campaign, or in his victory speech last night, discussing worker rights or unions.

On the one hand, the Congress remains bitterly divided between the two parties which means that labor law reform in the form of the Employee Free Choice Act is highly unlikely, as well as updates to the employment discrimination laws, like adding sexual orientation as a protected classification under Title VII or addressing “qualified individuals” under the Americans with Disabilities Act.  I also do not envision major changes to the FMLA or OSHA in a second term, though I suspect there will be additional attempts to amend the Equal Pay Act by trying to get the Paycheck Fairness Act passed.

On the other hand, there will be plenty of room for agency decisionmakers to work on the margins and within their own domains.   Read more »

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The Constitutional Challenge to Act 10 is Serious

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Category: Constitutional Law, Labor & Employment Law, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Wisconsin Law & Legal System
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On Friday, Judge Juan Colas issued a ruling that struck down Act 10, the “Budget Repair Bill,” on the grounds that the law violates the Wisconsin and U.S. Constitutions.  In essence, he held that the law differentiates between entities that represent public employees in collective bargaining — imposing conditions on certain bargaining entities but not others – and that the State had failed to advance a sufficient justification for this disparate treatment.  According to Judge Colas, the differential treatment of bargaining entities violated the First Amendment right of the affected unions to association and expression, and it also violated the Equal Protection Clause.  Judge Colas also held that the law violates the Home Rule provisions of the Wisconsin Constitution by dictating rules for Milwaukee that the law did not apply to other municipalities.

The reaction to the ruling from the Walker Administration – that Judge Colas is a “liberal Dane County judge” — was as hollow as it was predictable.  Some supporters of the Governor view the judiciary as an obstacle to their political agenda.  Therefore, judges who do not agree with the Administration’s legal arguments become, in their mind, opponents who must be demonized (like Dane County Circuit Judge Maryann Sumi) or else targeted with frivolous disciplinary complaints.

Clearly, some supporters of the Walker Administration have a difficult time separating the political debate over Act 10 from the separate legal debate over its contents. Read more »

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Illinois Prohibits Employers From Seeking Social Networking Passwords

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Category: Business Regulation, Computer Law, Labor & Employment Law, Privacy Rights, Public
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On August 1, 2012, Illinois Governor Pat Quinn signed into law a bill that prohibits employers from requesting or requiring employees or prospective employees from providing “any password or other related account information” to gain access to the individual’s social networking account. Ill. Public Act 097-0875. By enacting the legislation, Illinois joins Maryland as states that prohibit employers from obtaining social media account password information. The law amends the Illinois Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act, 820 ILCS 55, and is effective January 1, 2013.

Illinois’ new social media legislation confirms that employers maintain the right to create lawful workplace policies that regulate the use of computer equipment, e-mail, and internet use. Moreover, the law also allows employers to monitor employee use of the employer’s electronic equipment and e-mail. Employers also may still obtain publicly available information concerning employees or prospective employees under the new law.

As part of the Right to Privacy in the Workplace Act, the law is subject to investigation and enforcement by the Illinois Department of Labor. Potential damages under the law include reasonable attorney’s fees if the violation is found to be willful and knowing.

This legislation comes in response to public criticism of reported incidences of employers seeking social media account password information for purposes of evaluating position applicants. Illinois employers who currently engage in such practices should be aware that any hiring policy or practice that requires applicants or employees to reveal such information will be a violation of Illinois law after the end of the calendar year.

Cross-posted to General Counselor.

 

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