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Duke settles retirement lawsuits for $10 million, denies wrongdoing

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Duke has reached a $10.65 million dollar settlement for a pair of lawsuits that alleged the University mishandled its employee retirement plan.

The lawsuits alleged that Duke spent excessively on record keeping and made poor investment choices, violating the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). 

As part of the settlement, Duke has also agreed to hire an independent consultant regarding record-keeping for three years—in addition to other non-monetary relief—according to a release from Schlichter, Bogard and Denton law firm, which represented the plaintiffs. 

“It will enable Duke employees and retirees to improve their ability to build their retirement assets for years to come,” said Jerry Schlichter, managing partner of Schlichter Bogard & Denton, in the release. 

Duke denies any alleged wrongdoing or “claims of liability.” 

“This settlement was made solely to avoid the expense and inconvenience of prolonged litigation, and to ensure that Duke University’s resources are spent on retirement contributions for faculty and staff rather than the costs of litigation,” wrote Michael Schoenfeld, vice president for public affairs and government relations, in an email to The Chronicle Wednesday night. 

In David Clark, et al. v. Duke University, filed August 2016, the plaintiffs accused Duke of violating its responsibilities for the Faculty and Staff Retirement Plan. Judge Catherine Eagles of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina refused to dismiss the case in May 2017. 

Schlichter Bogard & Denton also filed a lawsuit this past summer alleging that Duke was "self-dealing" with funds from the retirement plan, using pension funds to pay salaries to its human resource staff. 

“We believe that the Duke Employee Retirement Plan has been well and prudently managed, and is in total compliance with ERISA and other applicable regulations,” Schoenfeld wrote in the Wednesday email. “Duke has acted in the best interests of its employees and retirees in designing the investment lineup, monitoring the fees, and selecting and monitoring investment options.”

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