Does a Dying Industry Guarantee Pension Litigation?

This is one of those days in which the possible blog topics come fast and furious, many of them driven by the once every hundred years or so events on Wall Street and what they tell us about both the obligations of fiduciaries of retirement plans and their concomitant ability to live up to those obligations. That may or may not be a story that can be covered adequately in the blog format, but at least some of the highlights of those issues may make for some posts along the way. For today though, I thought I would focus on something a little more concrete, namely the LA Times/ESOP/ERISA /breach of fiduciary duty case that I blogged about in my last post. Here is a nice article giving a little more context to the suit, and which is probably worth a read if you have an interest in ESOPs, ERISA, newspapers or all of the above. One thing in particular caught my eye in the article, which relates to its discussion of the underlying problems in the newspaper industry and how it relates to the lawsuit; one of the class plaintiffs comments that those problems are not with the product turned out by the reporters, but with the industry’s difficulties with “monetizing the product online.” As someone who used to read three newspapers a day in law school and now skims three or more a day on-line and on my blackberry without spending a dime for the content, I can only say amen to that. I am not sure, though, that this point really has anything to do with the validity or viability of the suit itself, other than to the extent of pointing out the underlying problems that gave rise to the transaction that allegedly harmed the ESOP participants and gave rise to the class action. Either way, the story illustrates an important point, which is that there is a need for caution in any transaction of this nature that is going to impact the dollar value of stock held in ESOP plans, in light of fiduciary obligations that run in tandem with such plans.