On August 10, 2020, NELA and the Pension Rights Center filed an amicus brief in the 9th Circuit case of Bafford v. Northrop Grumman. This case speaks to vitally important pleading standards in ERISA cases, which have a direct impact on whether workers will be guaranteed a fair retirement after a lifetime of hard work, and whether employers and outside pension administrators will be held to the high standards required for any fiduciary.
During the Plaintiffs’ employment at Northrop Grumman, both the company and their outside pension administrator provided Plaintiffs with pension statements, indicating how much each Plaintiff had accumulated in pension funds. In 2017, Defendants notified each Plaintiff that they would receive less than 50 percent of the pension amount that had been stated in pension statements. Further, Northrop Grumman went so far as to demand repayment of pension amounts already provided to Plaintiffs.
This amicus brief argues that the District Court incorrectly “faulted Plaintiffs for failing to allege, inter alia, that Northrop had a particular process in place for monitoring the Committee, failed to follow that process, [and] failed to ensure that the Committee had an adequate process in place for monitoring” the outside pension administrator. This pleading standard is in direct contradiction to the 8th Circuit decision in Braden v. Wal-Mart, which found that even the most sophisticated plaintiff will not have enough information about an employer’s internal monitoring program before discovery to allege facts with any specificity. Braden further found that pleading standards requiring a burdensome level of specificity in alleging facts known only to the defendant contradict the remedial benefits and rights under ERISA. We are very grateful to NELA member Jeffrey Lewis, Keller Rohrback L.L.P. (CA), and Norman Stein, Pension Rights Center (DC), who drafted this brief.