The employees on Tuesday asked for nearly $2.8 million in attorneys’ fees—29% of the settlement amount—along with nearly $650,000 in litigation expenses and incentive awards for the class representatives of $15,000 each. The fee award is warranted because class counsel negotiated a settlement worth about 30% of the plan participants’ damages, and did so by advancing “several novel legal theories” involving complex financial instruments and transactions, the employees told Judge Haywood S. Gilliam Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
The lawsuit accuses BlackRock—the world’s largest asset management company—of taking unreasonable profits from the collective investment trusts it offers to retirement plans, including the $1.8 billion plan covering its own workers. Last year Gilliam certified a class of thousands of workers covered by the BlackRock plan, but declined to certify a larger class of investors in more than 250 other retirement plans that offer BlackRock’s collective trusts.
The parties reached a tentative deal in February, one month after Gilliam ruled the 401(k) investors could go to trial on their claims under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. They were scheduled to begin a seven-day trial on March 1.
BlackRock is among the dozens of employers that have been sued under ERISA for putting their own mutual funds in their workers’ 401(k) plans. These cases have garnered more than $430 million in settlements in recent years, with settling employers including Reliance Trust Co. ($39.8 million), McKinsey & Co. ($39.5 million), SunTrust Banks Inc. ($29 million), Fidelity Investments ($28.5 million), BB&T Corp. ($24 million), and Deutsche Bank ($21.9 million).
The BlackRock employees are represented by Feinberg Jackson Worthman & Wasow LLP and Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC. BlackRock is represented by O’Melveny & Myers LLP.
The case is Baird v. BlackRock Institutional Tr. Co., N.D. Cal., No. 4:17-cv-01892, motion for attorneys’ fees 9/7/21.