Wells Fargo’s ERISA Settlement Drives $20 Million Fee Request

May 4, 2020, 1:25 PM

The attorneys who negotiated a $79 million settlement with Wells Fargo & Co. in a suit over ex-financial advisors’ deferred compensation asked a federal judge in South Carolina to award them more than $20 million in attorneys’ fees and expenses.

The $79 million settlement is “by far the largest settlement” involving a “top hat” executive retirement plan in the history of Employee Retirement Income Security Act litigation, the attorneys said in a May 1 motion. Their 25% fee request compares favorably with other ERISA fee awards—which are sometimes as high as 33%—and is reasonable in light of the “outstanding” recovery of about $31,000 per class member, the attorneys said.

The settlement, which received preliminary approval in February, resolves a lawsuit by former financial adviser Robert Berry, who said he gave up nearly $200,000 in deferred compensation when he resigned from the company in 2014. Berry says the deferred compensation plan’s forfeiture provision violated ERISA, while Wells Fargo maintained that the plan was largely exempt from ERISA as a “top hat” plan covering only a select group of highly paid employees.

The class is represented by Ajamie LLP, Izard Kindall & Raabe LLP, and Motley Rice LLC. Wells Fargo is represented by Seyfarth Shaw LLP and Haynsworth Sinkler Boyd.

The case is pending before Judge Joseph F. Anderson Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina.

The case is Berry v. Wells Fargo & Co., D.S.C., No. 3:17-cv-00304, motion for attorneys’ fees 5/1/20.

To contact the reporter on this story: Jacklyn Wille in Washington at jwille@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rob Tricchinelli at rtricchinelli@bloomberglaw.com; Patrick L. Gregory at pgregory@bloomberglaw.com

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