On Tuesday, March 14, 2017, in Hitchcock v. Cumberland University, No. 3:15-cv-01215, 2017 WL 971790 (6th Cir. Mar. 14, 2017), the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals joined six other federal circuits in ruling that Employee Retirement Income Security Act (“ERISA”) plan beneficiaries are not required to exhaust administrative remedies prior to filing suit when asserting statutory violations as opposed to claims for benefits.
Plaintiffs, former employees of Cumberland University (the “University”), were participants in a defined contribution pension plan (the “Plan”) sponsored by the University for its employees. In 2009, the University adopted a five percent matching contribution, whereby the University would match an employee’s contributions to the Plan up to five percent of the employee’s salary. On October 9, 2014, the University amended the Plan retroactively to 2013 to replace the match with a discretionary match, whereby the University would determine the amount of the employer’s matching contribution on a yearly basis. The University also announced that the employer matching contribution for the 2013-14 year, and for the 2014-15 year, would be zero percent.