MFS Reaches Settlement Agreement in ERISA Lawsuit

In addition to a multi-million dollar monetary settlement, MFS has agreed to certain plan design changes moving forward.

The parties in the lawsuit Velazquez v. MFS have filed a proposed settlement agreement in the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts.

The lawsuit had alleged that MFS defendants seeded the company’s own retirement plans primarily with MFS investment offerings, without investigating whether plan participants would be better served by investments managed by unaffiliated companies. The plaintiffs argued the retention of these proprietary mutual funds cost plan participants millions of dollars in excess fees. The plans in question had a combined $515,246,820 in assets as of the end of 2012.

The lawsuit also accused the defendants of failing to select the least expensive share class available for the plan’s designated investment alternatives, failing to investigate the use of separate accounts and collective trusts as alternatives to mutual funds, and failing to monitor and control recordkeeping expenses. Plaintiffs argued the defendants also failed to remove poorly performing investments from the plan.

Under the settlement, MFS shall cause its insurers to pay $6,875,000 into a qualified settlement fund to resolve the claims of the court-approved class. The net settlement amount—after deduction of any Court-approved attorneys’ fees and costs, administrative expenses, or class representatives’ compensation—will be allocated to class members according to a plan of allocation approved by the Court. For the most part, the settlement agreement stipulates, allocations to current participants who are entitled to a distribution under the plan of allocation will be made directly into their existing accounts in the plans. Authorized former participants who are entitled to a distribution may receive their distribution as a check or, if available and they elect, as a rollover to a qualified retirement account.

Beyond the monetary payment to the plan, the settlement provides that for a period of no less than three years beginning on the effective date of the settlement, the plans’ qualified default investment alternative options will be one or more target-date funds that are unaffiliated with MFS, and are index funds or are funds-of-funds that invest in underlying index funds. Further, during each year for a period of no less than three years following the date of filing of the motion for preliminary approval of the settlement, MFS will retain a third-party investment consultant unaffiliated with MFS for an engagement to provide an annual evaluation of the plans’ investment lineup and review the plans’ investment policy statement.

As stipulated in the settlement agreement documents, all class members and anyone claiming through them will fully release the plans as well as individual fiduciary defendants and the released parties from all released claims. The released claims include, but are not limited to, all claims that are or could be based on “any of the allegations, acts, omissions, purported conflicts, representations, misrepresentations, facts, events, matters, transactions or occurrences that were or could have been asserted in the class action.” They also include all claims that that arise out of, or are related to, the facts alleged in the class action, as well as those claims that “relate to the direction to calculate, the calculation of, and/or the method or manner of allocation of the net settlement amount pursuant to the plan of allocation and/or that relate to the approval by the independent fiduciary of the settlement agreement, unless brought against the independent fiduciary alone.”

The resolution of this case comes nearly two years after the filing of the complaint in the Massachusetts District Court. During the course of the action, case documents show, the settling parties engaged in extensive discovery, including production of over 90,000 pages of documents by defendants, production of additional documents by the class representatives, production of documents by non-parties, four depositions of defense fact witnesses, and a deposition of one of the class representatives.

On May 9, 2019, the parties engaged in private mediation with a jointly-selected mediator. After extensive arm’s length negotiations supervised by the mediator, the settling parties reached a settlement in principle. Documents and exhibits laying out the proposed settlement agreement are available here.