The Labor and Employment Department of Payne & Fears specializes in representing local, regional and national employers in all aspects of labor and employment law and related litigation.  We defend employers in employment cases, ranging from single-plaintiff wage and hour actions to complex disparate treatment cases brought on behalf of thousands of employees.  We deliver cost-effective results through early, comprehensive assessment of the facts and case strategy.  While many of our cases are resolved by dispositive motions and early resolution, we are also skilled trial attorneys who successfully take employment cases of every size and type through trial, arbitrations and administrative proceedings.  Our major areas of expertise include:


Jul 10

Court Denies De Novo Review in Favor of Request for Abuse of Discretion Standard

In a case brought in federal court under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) against our client, a national retailer, and its group health insurance plan for denial of an expensive surgery as not medically necessary, the court ordered briefing on the appropriate standard of court review. In ERISA cases, the standard of review is very important to determine whether the court will defer to the plan’s determination. Plaintiff filed a motion arguing for de novo review based on a California Insurance Code section he claimed negated the plan’s language requiring abuse of discretion review, citing two Central District court decisions in support. In opposition, Payne & Fears argued that the Insurance Code section was preempted with respect to the self-funded plan, distinguishing the two district court decisions and citing a conflicting decision from another Central District court.

On this issue which is undecided in the Ninth Circuit, the district court rejected plaintiff’s request for de novo review of the plan’s decision to deny coverage for his surgery. Instead, the court adopted the abuse of discretion standard requested by the plan, holding that the Insurance Code section was preempted with respect to the self-funded plan. The court also sided with the one case in the Central District so holding, and distinguished the two other Central District cases that decided otherwise.

Eric C. Sohlgren is defending the case on behalf of the plan and prepared the opposition briefing.

Practice areas: Labor and Employment Litigation, ERISA Litigation

Attorneys: Andrew K. Haeffele, Eric C. Sohlgren


Payne & Fears LLP Obtained Major Win in Widely Publicized Class Action

In late July, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ended a 23-year bid by a retired employee of the world's largest aerospace company to force the company's pension plan to retroactively recalculate decades of pension benefits she and other retirees commenced while working. The plaintiff, one of the original "Rosie the Riveters" who riveted planes during WWII, and who recently retired from making C-17s at the age of 95, claimed that her and other participants' pension benefits had been underpaid since at least 1989. In 2015, Payne & Fears LLP prevailed on a summary judgment motion and a motion for new trial involving technical plan interpretations and ERISA regulations in the federal district court. The plaintiff appealed. After expedited briefing because of the plaintiff's age, and oral argument, the Ninth Circuit affirmed, ending a case with national publicity because of the plaintiff's role as the last "Rosie the Riveter."

Practice areas: Labor and Employment Litigation, Class Action Defense, Appellate Law (Labor), ERISA Litigation

Attorneys: Eric C. Sohlgren