August 25, 2015 – On Wednesday, a federal judge will begin weighing whether Boeing Co. mishandled its 401(k) plan by offering imprudent investment options and allowing excessive fees to get passed on to employees.
The class-action suit, filed on behalf of 190,000 Boeing employees and retirees, has been in court for almost a decade. On the plaintiffs’ side is a St. Louis lawyer known for waging yearslong battles over retirement plans. Boeing is his biggest target to date.
The company has vowed to fight the suit, one of only a few such cases to go to trial. Boeing said it “strongly disagrees with the claims” and is prepared to show that its investment options and fees have been in line with industry standards.
Backing the suit is Jerome Schlichter, a personal-injury and civil-rights lawyer who since 2006 has gone after companies for alleged violations of the complex Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA. Since then, he has filed 18 suits against major corporations over purported 401(k) violations. The lawsuit against Boeing, filed in September 2006, was one of the first.
Eight settlements have resulted in more than $214 million in payouts, with $70 million of that going to 67-year-old Mr. Schlichter and his law firm, Schlichter Bogard & Denton LLP. The settlements also required the companies to make permanent changes to their retirement plan practices. Six of his cases are pending, including one that went to the U.S. Supreme Court earlier this year, and four others have been dismissed.
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