401(k) Participant Files ERISA Lawsuit Against Goldman Sachs

The lawsuit points out Goldman Sachs offered lower-cost investment vehicles to institutional clients that it did not use in its own 401(k) plan.

A participant in the Goldman Sachs 401(k) plan has sued the company, its retirement plan committee, and individual committee members, alleging they have breached their fiduciary duties and engaged in unlawful self-dealing with respect to the plan in violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

According to the proposed class action complaint, the defendants failed to administer the plan in the best interest of participants and failed to employ a prudent process for managing the plan. Instead, plaintiffs allege, defendants managed the plan in a manner that benefited Goldman Sachs at the expense of participants.

In a statement to PLANADVISER, Goldman Sachs said, “We dispute the allegations and intend to defend against the lawsuit.”

The lawsuit alleges that the defendants retained underperforming proprietary mutual funds that an objective fiduciary in their position would have removed. The funds did not outperform their stated benchmark indexes, and their performance only worsened as time passed. According to the complaint, while underperforming proprietary funds saw large redemptions from other investors, the defendants retained these funds in the plan, allowing Goldman Sachs to stem the consequences of further depletion of fund assets.

The defendants only removed proprietary mutual funds from the plan in 2017, after a series of legal rulings against other financial services firms highlighted their liability risk, the plaintiff alleges. He says the action was too late and the defendants have not reimbursed participants for the underperformance of the improperly retained proprietary funds.

The lawsuit also calls into question the defendants’ failure to obtain lower-cost separate accounts or collective trusts in place of proprietary mutual funds. For example, the complaint says, the plan remained invested in the Goldman Sachs Mid Cap Value mutual fund, which charged the plan between 0.73% and 0.76% of the plan’s balance during the statutory period, even though Goldman Sachs offered its institutional clients a separately-managed account utilizing the same investment strategy that would have cost at most 0.55% per year. According to the complaint, the defendants obtained lower-cost separate account or collective trust pricing for more than fifteen unaffiliated investment options in the plan, but appear to have made an exception for proprietary investments.

The plaintiff also says Goldman Sachs’ own plan paid more for proprietary mutual funds than other plans invested in the same funds. Until the end of 2015 or early 2016, the defendants invested in Institutional shares of proprietary mutual funds in the plan. The Institutional shares generally provided fee rebates (revenue sharing) of 0.05% to 0.10%, which other plans re-credited to participant accounts or used to offset administrative expenses. However, the defendants did not obtain the same rebates for the plan, the complaint states, and instead allowed Goldman Sachs to retain the extra 0.05% to 0.10% as additional revenue to the firm.

According to the complaint, the plan then continued to overpay when the defendants switched to a new share class of proprietary funds. Although the stated expense ratios for the new shares were 0.01% to 0.02% less than Institutional shares, the new shares offered no fee rebates. The plaintiff argues that if the defendants were to continue to invest in proprietary mutual funds, the best option remained Institutional shares with prudent use of revenue-sharing payments.

The plan has held approximately $5.5 billion to $7.5 billion in participant assets during the statutory period, and has consistently ranked as one the largest 100 defined contribution plans in the United States out of more than 650,000 such plans, the complaint states. The plan also had approximately 30,000 to 35,000 participants with balances at any time during the relevant period.

The lawsuit is seeking an order compelling the defendants to personally make good to the plan all losses that it incurred as a result of the alleged breaches and to restore the plan to the position it would have been if not for the alleged conduct. Among other things, it also seeks an accounting of profits earned by Goldman Sachs in connection with the plan, and a subsequent order requiring Goldman Sachs to disgorge all profits received from, or in respect to, the plan.