Course Description

601:779. Introduction to Employee Benefits Law (3)

Fall, 2014


Professor Hull


As Colleen Medill points out: “Once upon a time, employee benefits law was the domain of a select group of pension tax lawyers. Today, employee benefits law issues are part of the everyday life of the corporate lawyer, the litigation lawyer, the estate planning lawyer, the lawyer who specializes in family law, and the general practitioner.” The primary law covering employee pension and benefits plans is the much amended federal Employee Income Retirement Security Act of 1974 [ERISA].


Background [adapted from PBGC website]: Until 1974, there was little or no protection for pensions. One of the most shocking incidents of workers losing their retirement benefits occurred in 1963 when Studebaker terminated its employee pension plan, and more than 4,000 auto workers at its automobile plant in South Bend, Indiana, lost some or all of their promised pension plan benefits. Workers everywhere were in jeopardy of losing their pensions when companies went out of business. The late Senator Jacob Javits of New York found this situation a threat to the private pension system and, in 1967, introduced pension reform legislation to protect the benefits of millions of workers covered by private pension plans. On September 2, 1974, President Gerald R. Ford signed ERISA into law. "Under this law," President Ford remarked, "the men and women of our labor force will have much more clearly defined rights to pension funds and greater assurances that retirement dollars will be there when they are needed."


In conjunction with the Internal Revenue Code, ERISA regulates the retirement pension and health (as well as other) benefits plans offered by employers to their employees. How plans are marketed to employees, how they are administered in the interest of employees, and how employees’ and retirees’ expected benefits are protected when a plan is bankrupt or discontinued falls under the purview of these federal statutes.


This course will provide an introduction to the major provisions of employee benefits law. The primary text will be a casebook that offers a narrative text along with problems and discussion questions. There is a self-scheduled online final exam. Students will be required to participate in class discussions.