Supreme Court accepts 401(k) employer stock-drop case

Labor Dept. seeks ruling on Fifth Third Bancorp case that could ease challenges to employers

By Hazel Bradford

Dec 13, 2013 @ 5:06 pm (Updated 5:11 pm) EST

supreme court, 401(k), labor department, department of labor, fifth third bancorp

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday agreed to revisit the issue of fiduciary prudence in managing employer stock investment options in defined contribution plans.

The Labor Department had petitioned the court to hear a case regarding Fifth Third Bancorp that sought to settle a recent split between judicial circuits on the issue that could make it easier for participants to challenge employers when company stock loses value.

The high court's ultimate decision could make it harder for plan sponsors to offer company stock as an investment option in defined contribution plans, but it could also resolve inconsistencies regarding the practice that have come from lower court rulings.

“This is a case that should be of interest to all sponsors of defined contribution plans, particularly those with employer stock, but even those without,” said Jeremy Blumenfeld, an attorney in the Philadelphia office of law firm Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, which handles similar cases for plan sponsors but isn't involved in this one. “The Supreme Court likely will explore and write about the contours of the obligations that fiduciaries and investment professionals have when selecting and monitoring investments within ERISA plans.”

The order is available on the Supreme Court's website.

(Hazel Bradford is a reporter at sister publication Pensions & Investments.

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