Charlotte, NC – Parker Poe Adams & Bernstein LLP is pleased to announce the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit recently affirmed a 2021 trial victory defeating an approximately 250,000-person class action against Aon Hewitt Investment Consulting. The Fourth Circuit upheld the district court’s ruling that Aon properly advised and managed a company's 401(k) plan.
Benjamin Reetz filed the class action lawsuit against Aon and his former employer in April 2018, alleging the companies violated their fiduciary duties of loyalty and prudence under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) by recommending certain changes designed to improve and streamline investment selections in the plan. Aon went to trial for five days in summer 2021 in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, after which Judge Kenneth Bell ruled in favor of Aon in October 2021. Reetz appealed to the Fourth Circuit, which held oral arguments in December 2022.
"The problem for Reetz," Judge Julius Richardson wrote for the Fourth Circuit, "is the bench-trial record shows Aon’s advice was solely motivated by benefitting plan participants." For example, Judge Richardson wrote that the process Aon used to choose an investment fund for the retirement plan "was reasoned and calculated to maximize the benefits of the plan." The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's finding that Aon adequately discharged its fiduciary duties.
"We are pleased for Aon because the ruling validates their continued focus on helping clients maximize their employees' retirement savings," said Mike Adams and Nicholas Lee, partners at Parker Poe who represented Aon before the district and appellate courts. "In this case, Aon thoroughly documented a valid decision-making process designed to improve the plan for all participants."
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