USI Advisors Will Pay $1.27 Million To Settle Charges It Violated ERISA Fee Disclosure Requirements

August 23, 2012

USI Advisors Inc. (USI) will pay $1,265,608.70 to 13 pension plans to resolve charges it violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) by failing to properly disclose 12b-1 fees it collected off of fund investments.  The complaint behind the settlement reflects the commitment of the U.S Department of Labor Employee Benefit Security Administration (EBSA) to enforcing Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) fee disclosure and other requirements against service providers to employee benefit plans.  With regulations tightening, the tough economy driving greater scrutiny of plan investments, expenditures and performance, and enforcement rising, plan vendors, and the employee benefit plan sponsors and fiduciaries responsible for their engagement, compensation and oversight need to ensure the adequacy of their processes for deciding and reporting compensation, as well as the qualification, selection and oversight of vendors and fiduciaries generally. 

USI Settlement

An investigation by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) USI, fiduciary investment adviser made investments in mutual funds on behalf of ERISA-covered defined benefit plan clients and received 12b-1 fees from those funds. A 12b-1 fee is paid by a mutual fund out of fund assets to cover certain expenses. USI Advisors failed to fully disclose the receipt of the 12b-1 fees, and to use those fees for the benefit of the plans either by directly crediting the amounts to the plans or by offsetting other fees the plans would be obligated to pay the company.

“If you, as an investment adviser, are a fiduciary under ERISA with respect to plan investments in mutual funds, you cannot use your fiduciary authority to receive an additional fee or to receive compensation from third parties for your own personal account in transactions involving plan assets. We are very pleased that this settlement addresses the problems we identified with USI’s practices and restores funds to the plans and their participants,” said Phyllis C. Borzi, assistant secretary of labor for employee benefits security. “We are also very pleased that recently finalized fee disclosure regulations issued by the Labor Department will require fiduciaries like USI to be more transparent about the fees they receive when dealing with their plan clients.”

Under the terms of the settlement, USI Advisors has agreed not to provide bundled investment advisory and actuarial services to any ERISA-covered defined benefit plan client without first entering into a written agreement, contract or letter of understanding that specifies the services provided and whether the company or its affiliates will act as a fiduciary to those plans. USI Advisors also will provide to clients a description of all compensation and fees received, in any form, from any source, involving any investment or transaction related to them.

The alleged violations in this case occurred between 2004 and 2010. USI Advisors is a wholly owned subsidiary of USI Consulting Group, a Goldman Sachs Capital Partners Co.

The investigation conducted by EBSA as part of the agency’s Consultant/Adviser Project, highlights the need for employee benefit plan fiduciaries and vendors alike to properly identify and report all vendor compensation received by employee benefit plan investment advisors and other service providers in compliance with ERISA’s fee disclosure and other requirements.  The Consultant/Adviser  Project targets vendors and advisors to employee benefit plans for review, and where applicable, enforcement action when service providers violate ERISA’s requirements.  EBSA has made misconduct by consultants, advisors and other service providers a priority as part of its broader emphasis on enforcement of ERISA’s fiduciary responsibility and reporting requirements.

Tightening Rules, Enforcement & Tough Times Driving Risks

The EBSA’s announcement of the USI settlement comes as it continues to move forward to strengthen the transparency of vendor compensation and other fiduciary regulations and enforcement.  Just shortly before today’s announcement, EBSA recently clarified its guidance about  how its  rules affect 401(k) plan brokerage window arrangements in response to public feedback. Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2012-02R published July 30, 2012, modifies and replaces Q&A 30 of Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2012-02 (issued May 7, 2012) with a new Q&A 39.

EBSA’s final fee disclosure regulation[i] published on requires plan administrators to make to disclose specified information about retirement plan fees and expenses to participants and beneficiaries. The regulation requires plan administrators to give participants and beneficiaries more informationm about administrative and investment fees and expenses in their 401(k) plans.

EBSA issued Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2012-02, which provided guidance to its field enforcement personnel in question and answer format on the obligations of plan administrators under the fee disclosure regulation on May 7, 2012. In response to questions and concerns about statements in Question 30 regarding brokerage windows and other arrangements that enable plan participants and beneficiaries to select investments beyond those designated by the plan, EBSA issued Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2012-02 which supersedes Field Assistance Bulletin 2012-02 by modifying its provisions about brokerage windows and inviting more public comments for EBSA to use to consider further clarification of this guidance. 

As did its predecessor, Field Assistance Bulletin No. 2012-02R specifies that while the fee disclosure regulation covers “brokerage windows,” “self-directed brokerage accounts,” and other similar plan arrangements that enable participants and beneficiaries to select investments beyond those designated by the plan, its coverage of brokerage windows is limited to the disclosure requirements in paragraph (c) of the regulation relating to plan-related information. The disclosure requirements for investment-related information in paragraph (d) of the regulation do not apply to brokerage windows, self-directed brokerage accounts, and similar arrangements or to any investment selected by a participant or beneficiary that is not designated by the plan (i.e., any investments made through the window, account, or arrangement).

Beyond meeting the technicalities of the fee disclosure requirements, plan sponsors, fiduciaries and vendors should also ensure that their selection, oversight, determination of compensation and other dealings with plan vendors and consultants meet the general fiduciary responsibility, prohibited transaction, bonding and other requriements of ERISA, as well as any applicable securities and tax requirements.

Through its participant fee disclosure and other stepped up fiduciary regulations and enforcement, EBSA is sending clear signals that it stands ready to investigate and take action against service providers or others that charge excessive fees, failure to adequately justify or appropriately disclose fees or other compensation from plan transactions, or other fiduciary protections of ERISA.  In the face of these requirements, plan fiduciaries, sponsors, advisors and vendors should carefully review the appropriateness of compensation received or promised to plan vendors, as well as the adequacy of practices for identifying and reporting that compensation and the selection and oversight of the vendors receiving that compensation.

For Help or More Information

If you need help reviewing and updating, administering or defending your group health or other employee benefit, human resources, insurance, health care matters or related documents or practices to respond to emerging regulations, monitoring or commenting on these rules, defending your health plan or its administration, or other health  or employee benefit, human resources or risk management concerns, please contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

A Fellow in the American College of Employee Benefit Council, immediate past Chair of the American Bar Association (ABA) RPTE Employee Benefits & Other Compensation Group and current Co-Chair of its Welfare Benefit Committee, Vice-Chair of the ABA TIPS Employee Benefits Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and past Chair of the ABA Health Law Section Managed Care & Insurance Interest Group, Ms. Stamer is recognized, internationally, nationally and locally for her more than 24 years of work, advocacy, education and publications on cutting edge health and managed care, employee benefit, human resources and related workforce, insurance and financial services, and health care matters. 

A board certified labor and employment attorney widely known for her extensive and creative knowledge and experienced with these and other employment, employee benefit and compensation matters, Ms. Stamer continuously advises and assists employers, employee benefit plans, their sponsoring employers, fiduciaries, insurers, administrators, service providers, insurers and others to monitor and respond to evolving legal and operational requirements and to design, administer, document and defend medical and other welfare benefit, qualified and non-qualified deferred compensation and retirement, severance and other employee benefit, compensation, and human resources, management and other programs and practices tailored to the client’s human resources, employee benefits or other management goals.  A primary drafter of the Bolivian Social Security pension privatization law, Ms. Stamer also works extensively with management, service provider and other clients to monitor legislative and regulatory developments and to deal with Congressional and state legislators, regulators, and enforcement officials concerning regulatory, investigatory or enforcement concerns. 

Recognized in Who’s Who In American Professionals and both an American Bar Association (ABA) and a State Bar of Texas Fellow, Ms. Stamer serves on the Editorial Advisory Board of Employee Benefits News, the editor and publisher of Solutions Law Press HR & Benefits Update and other Solutions Law Press Publications, and active in a multitude of other employee benefits, human resources and other professional and civic organizations.   She also is a widely published author and highly regarded speaker on these matters. Her insights on these and other matters appear in the Bureau of National Affairs, Spencer Publications, the Wall Street Journal, the Dallas Business Journal, the Houston Business Journal, Modern and many other national and local publications.   You can learn more about Ms. Stamer and her experience, review some of her other training, speaking, publications and other resources, and registerto receive future updates about developments on these and other concerns from Ms. Stamer here.


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[i]See 75 FR 64910 (Oct. 20, 2010).


©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-Exclusive License To Republish Granted To Solutions Law Press, Inc.  All Other Rights Reserved.


Wal-Mart Settlement Shows ADA Risks When Considering Employee Return To Work Accommodation Requests & Inquiries

August 23, 2012

From handling requests for light duty or other modifications follow a leave to investigating the medical justification for leaves or the fitness of an employee to return to work following a medical absence, employers need to use care to manage disability discrimination exposures.

Today’s announcement by the  Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) that Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores East, L.P.  (Wal-Mart) will pay $50,000 in back pay and damages to settle an EEOC disability discrimination lawsuit highlights the potential disability discrimination risks that employers can face when deciding not to provide a requested accommodation to a worker returning from medical leave while other recent enforcement actions show ADA risks from simply making medical inquiries to a worker on or returning from medical leave.

In its lawsuit against Wal-Mart, Case No. 2:11-CV-00834, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico, the EEOC charged that a Carlsbad, N.M Wal-Mart store violated the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA) by firing a part-time sales clerk, Marcia Arney because the store refused to provide temporary accommodations ordered by her physician following a period of medical leave.

According to the EEOC lawsuit, when Arney, a 22-year Wal-Mart employee, showed the store manager a note from her doctor requesting an accommodation involving periodic breaks off her feet, the manager refused to return her to her job unless she obtained a medical release with no restrictions. The EEOC claims that had Wal-Mart inquired further, it would have known the accommodation need was temporary and in any case, that Wal-Mart easily could have accommodated the restriction. 

Under the consent decree settling the suit, Wal-Mart will conduct annual live ADA training of management  officials at its Carlsbad store and post a notice on its agreement with the EEOC so that employees are aware  of procedures for reporting disability discrimination. Wal-Mart also committed to not require  disabled workers to produce a full release from their doctor upon returning  from a medical leave. Further, Wal-Mart agreed to engage in an interactive process with disabled employees to find a  reasonable accommodation to assist them in performing their jobs and to report future requests for accommodation, as well as charges and lawsuits alleging disability discrimination to the EEOC for the duration of the decree.

Title I of the ADA prohibits employers from discriminating against individuals on the basis of disability in various aspects of employment.  The ADA’s provisions on disability-related inquiries and medical examinations reflect Congress’s intent to protect the rights of applicants and employees to be assessed on merit alone, while protecting the rights of employers to make sure that individuals in the workplace can efficiently perform the essential functions of their jobs.   An employer generally violates the ADA if it requires its employees to undergo medical examinations or submit to disability-related inquiries that are not related to how the employee performs his or her job duties, or if it requires its employees to disclose overbroad medical history or medical records.  Title I of the ADA also generally requires employers to make  reasonable accommodations to employees’ and applicants’ disabilities as long as  this does not pose an undue hardship or the employer the employer otherwise proves employing a disabled person with reasonable accommodation could not eliminate significant safety concerns.  Employers generally bear the burden of proving these or other defenses.  Employers are also prohibited from excluding individuals with disabilities unless they show that the exclusion is consistent with business necessity and they are prohibited from retaliating against employees for opposing practices contrary to the ADA.  Violations of the ADA can expose businesses to substantial liability.

As reflected by the Wal-Mart, violations of the employment provisions of the ADA may be prosecuted by the EEOC or by private lawsuits and can result in significant judgments.  Disabled employees or applicants that can prove they fully were denied reasonable accommodations or otherwise subjected to prohibited disability discrimination under the ADA generally can recover actual damages, attorneys’ fees, and up to $300,000 of exemplary damages (depending on the size of the employer).   

The lawsuit against Wal-Mart is part of a wave of lawsuits in which the EEOC or other agencies under the Obama Administration are aggressively challenging medical examination and other medical screenings by private and public employers.  In the Wal-Mart case, the suit challenged an employer’s refusal to provide requested accommodations.  In other cases, however, the EEOC or other agencies under the Obama Administration also have challenged medical inquiries made by an employer to employees during or returning from leave.  Both types of suits send clear signals that employers should use care in making medical inquiries and responding to requests for accommodation from employees taking or returning from medical leaves.  See, e.g., Employer Pays $475,000 To Settle ADA Discrimination Lawsuit Challenging Medical Fitness Testing For EMTs, Firefighters & Other Public Safety Worker’s.

To help mitigate the expanded employment liability risks , businesses generally should act to manage their exposures.  Management needs to recognize the likely need to defend medical inquiries, decisions to refuse accommodation requests or other similar actions that arise when dealing with employees taking or returning from medical leave due to a disability, illness or injury.  Employers need to critically check and document the legitimate business justification for making a medical inquiry or refusing a requested accommodation based on a well-documented investigation and analysis tailored to the specific situation of each requesting employee.

Businesses also should consider tightening their documentation regarding their procedures and processes governing the  collection and handling records and communications that may contain information that could be helpful or hurtful in the event of a discrimination charge.  Businesses need to ensure that all required records and statistics are collected.  In addition, businesses also should consider strengthening record creation and retention efforts to help preserve other evidence that could be invaluable to defending charges and change the way that decisions are made and documented to position their organizations to more effectively demonstrate the defensibility of their employment and other business activities against potential nondiscrimination charges.

As part of this process, businesses also should carefully review their employment records, group health plan, family leave, disability accommodation, and other existing policies and practices to comply with, and manage exposure under the new genetic information nondiscrimination and privacy rules enacted as part of the Genetic Information and Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) signed into law by President Bush on May 21, 2008.  Effective November 21, 2009, Title VII of GINA amends the Civil Rights Act to prohibit employment discrimination based on genetic information and restricts the ability of employers and their health plans to require, collect or retain certain genetic information. Under GINA, employers, employment agencies, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees face significant liability for violating the sweeping nondiscrimination and confidentiality requirements of GINA concerning their use, maintenance and disclosure of genetic information. Employees can sue for damages and other relief like currently available under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other nondiscrimination laws.  For instance, GINA’s employment related provisions include rules that will:

  • Prohibit employers and employment agencies from discriminating based on genetic information in hiring, termination or referral decisions or in other decisions regarding compensation, terms, conditions or privileges of employment;
  • Prohibit employers and employment agencies from limiting, segregating or classifying employees so as to deny employment opportunities to an employee based on genetic information;
  • Bar labor organizations from excluding, expelling or otherwise discriminating against individuals based on genetic information;
  • Prohibit employers, employment agencies and labor organizations from requesting, requiring or purchasing genetic information of an employee or an employee’s family member except as allowed by GINA to satisfy certification requirements of family and medical leave laws, to monitor the biological effects of toxic substances in the workplace or other conditions specifically allowed by GINA;
  • Prohibit employers, labor organizations and joint labor-management committees from discriminating in any decisions related to admission or employment in training or retraining programs, including apprenticeships based on genetic information;
  • Mandate that in the narrow situations where limited cases where genetic information is obtained by a covered entity, it maintain the information on separate forms in separate medical files, treat the information as a confidential medical record, and not disclosure the genetic information except in those situations specifically allowed by GINA;
  • Prohibit any person from retaliating against an individual for opposing an act or practice made unlawful by GINA; and
  • Regulate the collection, use, access and disclosure of genetic information by employer sponsored and certain other health plans.

These employment provisions of GINA are in addition to amendments to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), the Public Health Service Act, the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, and Title XVIII (Medicare) of the Social Security Act that are effective for group health plan for plan years beginning after May 20, 2009.

If you have any questions or need help reviewing and updating your organization’s employment and/or employee practices in response to the ADAAA, GINA or other applicable laws, or if we may be of assistance with regard to any other workforce management, employee benefits or compensation matters, please do not hesitate to contact the author of this update, Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.

About The Author

Management attorney and consultant Cynthia Marcotte Stamer helps businesses, governments and associations solve problems, develop and implement strategies to manage people, processes, and regulatory exposures to achieve their business and operational objectives and manage legal, operational and other risks. Board certified in labor and employment law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, with more than 20 years human resource and employee benefits experience, Ms. Stamer helps businesses manage their people-related risks and the performance of their internal and external workforce though appropriate human resources, employee benefit, worker’s compensation, insurance, outsourcing and risk management strategies domestically and internationally. Recognized in the International Who’s Who of Professionals and bearing the Martindale Hubble AV-Rating, Ms. Stamer also is a highly regarded author and speaker, who regularly conducts management and other training on a wide range of labor and employment, employee benefit, human resources, internal controls and other related risk management matters.  Her writings frequently are published by the American Bar Association (ABA), Aspen Publishers, Bureau of National Affairs, the American Health Lawyers Association, SHRM, World At Work, Government Institutes, Inc., Atlantic Information Services, Employee Benefit News, and many others. For a listing of some of these publications and programs, see here. Her insights on human resources risk management matters also have been quoted in The Wall Street Journal, various publications of The Bureau of National Affairs and Aspen Publishing, the Dallas Morning News, Spencer Publications, Health Leaders, Business Insurance, the Dallas and Houston Business Journals and a host of other publications. Chair of the ABA RPTE Employee Benefit and Other Compensation Committee, a council member of the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits, and the Legislative Chair of the Dallas Human Resources Management Association Government Affairs Committee, she also serves in leadership positions in many human resources, corporate compliance, and other professional and civic organizations. For more details about Ms. Stamer’s experience and other credentials, contact Ms. Stamer, information about workshops and other training, selected publications and other human resources related information, see here or contact Ms. Stamer via telephone at 469.767.8872 or via e-mailto

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©2012 Cynthia Marcotte Stamer.  Non-exclusive right to republish granted to Solutions Law Press.  All other rights reserved.