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Pension Suit Turns on Partner Definition

Posted Aug 17, 2007 6:05 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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A “partner” who was denied pension benefits from her former law firm because she was not considered a shareholder will get a chance to prove she is entitled to the money.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled (PDF) Wednesday that a magistrate erred in barring Karen Strom from pursuing the claim, the New York Law Journal reports.

Strom left Siegel Fenchel & Peddy of Long Island, N.Y., seven years ago to join a competing firm. Strom was denied benefits from the firm’s profit-sharing plan and cash-balance pension plans even though she had the title of "profit-sharing partner."

Leslie Corwin of Greenberg Traurig told the legal newspaper that Strom’s damages, with interest and penalties, could exceed $1 million. "The real issue here is whether she was a partner or not," he said. The decision recognizes that "law firms have to afford partners the same notice under ERISA that corporate America must give under its pension and profit-sharing plans."

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