A federal appeals court in Washington has upheld a lower court's dismissal of an ERISA complaint against The George Washington University by a participant in two university defined contribution plans.
The three-judge panel of the appeals court, in a brief unsigned opinion issued March 24, said U.S. District Court Judge John D. Bates, Washington, ruled correctly when he dismissed in July the case of Melissa Stanley vs. George Washington University et al.
The judge dismissed the case because Ms. Stanley, a former university employee, forfeited her right to sue after having signed a confidential settlement with university in 2016. This agreement included a "general release" provision protecting the university from future legal claims covered by several federal laws. The agreement didn't mention ERISA.
Ms. Stanley's complaint that "the release lists numerous federal statutes but does not include ERISA is unpersuasive," the judge wrote. "The court finds that Stanley has released her claims under the agreement and thus lacks standing to sue."
The appeals court agreed.
"For the reasons set out in the district court's opinion, we conclude that appellant Stanley released her ERISA claims as part of a prior settlement," the appeals court wrote. "Stanley's claims are therefore properly dismissed."
Ms. Stanley sued the university in April 2018 alleging, among other things, that the plans' fiduciaries violated ERISA by retaining expensive and poor performing investment options and charging "unreasonable" fees for record keeping and plan administration.
The George Washington University Retirement Plan for Faculty and Staff, a 401(a) plan, had assets of $937.9 million as of Dec. 31, 2018, according to the latest Form 5500 filing. The George Washington University Supplemental Retirement Plan, a 403(b) plan, had assets of $1.15 billion as of Dec. 31, 2018, according to the latest Form 5500 filing.