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Federal judge refuses to dismiss lawsuit regarding University's retirement plan

A federal judge issued a mixed ruling on the University's request to dismiss a lawsuit that accuses its retirement plan of excessive fees and poor investments.

The judge, Catherine C. Eagles of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, did not dismiss the plaintiff David Clark’s allegations that Duke’s retirement plan involved high investment fees and favored certain investments with many options over lower-cost alternatives.

Other allegations against the University were dismissed by Eagles because they were filed too late or were not supported by enough facts to make them plausible. This class-action lawsuit could affect the more than 37,000 employees and retirees in the University’s Faculty and Staff Retirement Plan.

Jerome Schlichter—managing partner of Schlichter Bogard & Denton LLP, the law firm representing the plaintiffs—wrote in a statement that the firm was pleased by the ruling to move forward with the case.

"This decision allows Duke employees and retirees to proceed to recover the full amount of their losses," he wrote. "University 403(b) plan participants must be made whole when a plan sponsor fails to live up to its fiduciary duty, the same as employees and retirees who participate in 401(k) plans."

Duke is amongst 12 other universities—including Yale University, New York University and Northwestern University—that are facing lawsuits regarding their retirement plans. Last week, a judge in Georgia also refused to dismiss a lawsuit against Emory University’s retirement plan.

The University’s plan involved more than 400 options, which the lawsuit alleges could cause “decision paralysis"—that too many options confuse plan participants. Eagles’ ruling included no discussion of claim, but allowed the claim to move forward.

Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Editor's Note: This article was updated on Tuesday at 3:15 p.m. with Schlichter's statement.


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