Stephen Harris is a partner in the Employment Law Department of Paul Hastings and co-chair of the department’s Global Compensation, Benefits, and ERISA practice. Mr. Harris is a recognized leader in compensation, benefits, and ERISA law. He has been ranked by Chambers USA as one of the top employee benefits and executive compensation lawyers in California and Chambers has noted that he “maintains an impressively broad practice that includes IRS, HIPAA and COBRA compliance.” He is also recognized by The Best Lawyers in America and Legal 500 for ERISA litigation. Mr. Harris’ published works include authoring a treatise covering the Federal WARN Act and state analogs, co-authoring the fiduciary responsibility chapter of Employee Benefits Law, and was a contributing author for Reductions in Force.
Mr. Harris devotes his practice to executive compensation, employee benefits, and workforce restructuring matters. His employee benefits practice focuses on designing, implementing, interpreting and litigating claims related to qualified and non-qualified retirement plans, domestic and international executive contracts, stock option and other equity plans, severance plans, and vacation plans. He advises clients on ERISA, Internal Revenue Code, COBRA, and HIPAA compliance, as well as the federal WARN Act and various state analogs, and counsels qualified plan fiduciaries how to best limit fiduciary liability concerns. He negotiates and drafts employment contracts and severance agreements, represents sponsors of employee benefit plans in voluntary compliance programs maintained by the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Labor, and conducts due diligence and drafts contract provisions for employee benefits matters in connection with corporate transactions.
Mr. Harris regularly represents compensation committees, boards of directors, and qualified plan fiduciary committees and has litigated a wide range of individual and class action cases involving numerous employee benefits issues. His clients include financial institutions, retailers, telecommunication companies, healthcare systems and global entities.
Recent Notable Representations
- Outside Benefits Counsel: Mr. Harris worked closely with clients to advise and
implement a number of important strategic initiatives, including advising clients on benefit plan changes; amending and restating qualified pension plans; revamping plans’ claims procedures; eliminating certain non-qualified deferred compensation plans and obligations; eliminating “Rabbi trusts” in a trust busting exercise; handling benefit claims as well as advising on numerous Internal Revenue Code Section 162(m) and 409A issues. Mr. Harris recently devised a strategy that resulted in the IRS approving a retroactive qualified plan amendment that saved our client millions of dollars when a scrivener’s error introduced a faulty provision into the retirement plan.
- Won Several Defined Benefit Class Actions: Mr. Harris won summary judgment
against class claims brought by plaintiffs alleging that they were unjustly
denied defined benefit plan benefits.
- Won Several Single-Plaintiff Benefits Cases: Mr. Harris won summary judgment on behalf of a client who offset long-term disability benefits by certain pension plan benefits in the face of adverse Ninth Circuit authority and, in doing so, convinced the Ninth Circuit that the offset did not violate ERISA, the Internal Revenue Code, or the Age Discrimination in Employment Act. Earlier this year, Mr. Harris prevailed at arbitration against a plaintiff’s claim that she was entitled to “good reason” resignation benefits under a change in control plan.
- Mergers and Acquisitions: Regularly leads the benefits, labor, employment, and
executive compensation; and international labor and employment representation,
including a recent transaction involving a global company’s bid to acquire the
largest U.S. publicly-traded pork processor and hog producer, in a transaction
valued at over $7 billion dollars.
- Bankruptcy: Led the ERISA, benefits, and compensation aspects of Paul Hastings’ representation of an airline in high-stakes labor negotiations in bankruptcy as the company sought to reduce labor costs by $1.25 billion annually. Led the ERISA and benefits aspects of Paul Hastings’ representation of a large furniture manufacturer and retailer involving unique PBGC issues.
Reported Litigation Victories
- Impress Communications v. UnumProvident Corp.
- Grenell v. UPS Health and Welfare Package
- Serpa v. SBC Telecomms., Inc.
- Safavi v. SBC Disability Income Plan
- Stewart v. AT&T Inc.
- Barnes v. AT&T Pension Ben. Plan-Nonbargained Program
- Day vs. AT&T Disability Income Plan
Accolades and Recognitions
- Chambers USA, Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation
- Legal 500, ERISA Litigation
- Best Lawyers in America
- University of Southern California Law School, J.D., 1996
- University of California Los Angeles, B.A., 1993