Thinking ESOPs: Enforceability of Arbitration Provisions — There Might Be More to the Analysis

Recently, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals held that a plaintiff was required to request attorneys’ fees during an arbitration of an ERISA claims dispute. Having failed to do so, the plaintiff could not subsequently seek a fee award from the district court. The Sixth Circuit held that because the parties were obligated to arbitrate their ERISA disputes, the court’s jurisdiction was limited, and the parties were obligated to raise any remedy issues during the arbitration.

Although the case was not an ESOP case, but it was an ERISA case, the Sixth Circuit’s decision reminds us that arbitration is not prohibited by, or inconsistent with, ERISA. In fact, the Sixth Circuit reaffirmed that federal law strongly favors arbitration of ERISA disputes, and if a valid agreement to arbitrate exists, then the court must send the arbitrable disputes to arbitration, and the court’s ability to review the arbitrator’s decision is extremely limited.

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