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Overview

Stephen Harris is a partner in the Tax Department of Paul Hastings, and co-chair of the firm’s Global Compensation, Benefits, and ERISA practice. Steve 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 The Legal 500 for ERISA litigation. Steve published works include authoring a treatise covering the Federal WARN Act and state analogs and co-authoring the fiduciary responsibility chapter of Employee Benefits Law. He was also a contributing author for Reductions in Force.

 

Steve has extensive experience leading the employee benefit, executive compensation, and employment aspects of corporate transactions and bankruptcies, and working with senior executives to negotiate employment and severance agreements. He also advises clients with respect to utilizing “top hat” and severance plans as a work around to noxious state law non-compete restrictions.

Steve routinely advises clients on benefit plan design, implementation and compliance, and advises plan committees on ERISA fiduciary matters, compliance, and best practices.

In addition to being a trusted advisor, he is also a zealous advocate, representing clients in litigation proceedings and before the IRS, the Department of Labor and corollary state agencies in audits and settlement negotiations.

Steve has been consistently ranked as one of the top employee benefits and executive compensation lawyers in California since 2013 by Chambers USA (receiving the prestigious Band 1 ranking since 2019), which has also consistently ranked Paul Hastings’ employee benefits and executive compensation practice in Band 1. He also has been recognized by The Legal 500 for Employee Benefits, Executive Compensations and Retirement Plans – Transactional, and by The Best Lawyers in America for Employee Benefits (ERISA) Law, Employment Law – Management and Tax Law, included being recognized as Lawyer of the Year for Tax Law in 2024 and 2021.  

Steve’s published works include authoring a treatise covering the Federal WARN Act and state analogs and co-authoring the fiduciary responsibility chapter of Employee Benefits Law. He was also a contributing author for Reductions in Force.

Recognitions

  • Ranked in Chambers USA since 2013, Band 1 since 2019
  • Recognized in The Legal 500 U.S.
  • Recognized in Best Lawyers since 2013
  • Lawyer of the Year for Tax Law – 2024, 2021
  • Paul Hastings Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation Practice ranked by Chambers USA since 2019, Band 1

Education

  • University of Southern California Law School, J.D.
  • University of California Los Angeles, B.A.

Representations

Notable Representations:

  • Outside Benefits Counsel: Steve worked closely with clients to advise and implement a wide range of important strategic initiatives, including benefit plan changes; amending and restating qualified pension plans; revamping plans’ claims procedures to reduce risk; 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 105(h), 162(m), 280G, and 409A issues. Steve recently devised a strategy that resulted in the IRS approving a retroactive qualified plan amendment that saved the client millions of dollars when a scrivener’s error introduced a faulty provision into the retirement plan.
  • Transactions and Bankruptcies: Steve regularly leads the benefits, labor, employment, executive compensation, and international labor and employment aspects of corporate transactions, restructurings and bankruptcies.  He led the representation of a client in a major bankruptcy with respect to all matters involving pension and welfare plans in the bankruptcy proceedings, taking depositions of plan actuaries and representing the client in the court proceedings related to collective bargaining matters.
  • Won Several Defined Benefit Class Actions: Steve 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: Steve 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. He prevailed at arbitration against a plaintiff’s claim that she was entitled to “good reason” resignation benefits under a change in control plan. Steve won perhaps the very first Affordable Care Act case claiming that retiree annual or lifetime limits are illegal.

Reported Litigation Victories:

  • Various arbitration matters, including several complete wins with respect to allegedly forfeited non-qualified plan benefits (on both the employee and employer side) and a complete verdict with respect to “good reason” severance benefits.
  • 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

Engagement & Publications

  • Webinar: New FTC Rules on Non-Compete Agreements – April 26, 2024
  • Webinar: COVID-19: Employment Update - March 19th, 2020
  • Intersection of Wage and Hour and Employee Benefits Issues: Preventing and Resolving Claims - June 4th, 2015
  • ERISA Teleconference: Inadequate or Mistaken Benefit Plan Disclosures - May 24th, 2011

Involvement

  • Previous board member, Junior Achievement of Southern California and Menorah Housing
  • Served as counsel for various charities on a pro bono basis

Practice Areas

Tax

Litigation

Employment Litigation

Workplace Retaliation and Whistleblower Defense

Global Compensation, Benefits, and ERISA

International Employment Law

Employment Counseling and Preventive Advice

Employment Law


Languages

Englisch


Admissions

New York Bar

California Bar


Education

USC Gould School of Law, J.D. 1996

University of California, Los Angeles, B.A. 1993


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