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Unraveling the Windsor Knot: How the Supreme Court’s Opinion on DOMA Will Affect Employers and Employee Benefits

Unraveling the Windsor Knot: How the Supreme Court’s Opinion on DOMA Will Affect Employers and Employee Benefits
Product Code - TMW96
Speaker(s): Kurt Lawson, Hogan Lovells US LLP; Priscilla Ryan, Sidley Austin LLP; and Robert Newman, Covington & Burling LLP
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In Windsor v. United States, the U.S. Supreme Court will address for the first time the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act's definition of marriage. Under DOMA, retirement plans regulated by ERISA are required to define a spouse only as “a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.” The reach of the law extends to eligibility for other employee benefit plans, such as employer-sponsored health coverage and COBRA. In addition, IRA benefits available to spouses are not available to same-sex spouses as IRAs are regulated by the tax Code. Under DOMA, the IRS does not recognize same-sex marriages.


The speakers will explain the impact of the Court’s decision, particularly with respect to various forms of employee benefits. The topics that will be covered include:

Qualified plans

  • Entitlement to survivor benefits
  • Spousal consent to changes in distribution forms, beneficiaries and loans
  • Qualified Domestic Relations Orders (QDROs)
  • Minimum required distributions
  • Direct rollover rights
  • Hardship distributions

Welfare benefits

  • Taxability of benefits
  • FICA and income tax withholding
  • COBRA rights
  • Special enrollment rights
  • Family status change events
  • Permitted VEBA coverage
  • HIPAA-HITECH privacy issues
  • Coordination of benefits
  • Affordable Care Act obligations

Executive compensation

  • Spousal benefits
  • Beneficiary designations
  • Community and marital property determinations
  • Alimony and marital property settlements

Retroactivity issues

  • FICA and income tax refunds
  • Rights to past benefit payments

Design issues

  • Tax gross-ups
  • Treatment of same-sex partners in states without marriage laws
  • Treatment of opposite-sex partners

Who Should Attend?

  • Benefits tax and ERISA practitioners
  • H.R. benefits and compensation professionals

Educational Objectives

Upon completion of this webinar, participants will be able to:

  • Understand the Supreme Court’s opinion
  • Understand the effects of the opinion on employee benefit plans
  • Be able to identify any necessary or advisable actions to be taken by employers and employees as a result of the case

Requirements & Education Credits

Prerequisites: None
Level: Intermediate
Delivery method: Group Interactive Live
Recommended CPE credit: 1.5 credits 

Kurt Lawson, Hogan Lovells US LLP; Priscilla Ryan, Sidley Austin LLP; and Robert Newman, Covington & Burling LLP

Robert Newman is a partner in the employee benefits and executive compensation practice group of Covington & Burling LLP in Washington, DC. He represents clients ranging from small employers to some of the nation's largest employers, including for-profit and tax-exempt entities. His practice includes:

  • designing, drafting, and amending a wide range of retirement plans (including 401(k) plans, ESOPs, and traditional and hybrid defined benefit plans) and welfare plans (including health, severance, and cafeteria plans);
  • creating executive compensation arrangements including nonqualified deferred compensation plans, stock option plans, and other incentive plans;
  • representing clients before the IRS and the Department of Labor;
  • assisting clients with legislative initiatives;
  • providing benefits expertise in corporate transactions and ERISA litigation;
  • counseling clients with respect to pension fund investments in private equity funds and hedge funds; and
  • negotiating and writing employment agreements.

Newman served as ERISA counsel to Verizon Communications Inc. on its transfer of $7.5 billion in pension liabilities to The Prudential Insurance Company of America. He designed and drafted a pension plan document converting a client’s traditional defined benefit plan to a cash balance pension plan, and has testified before the IRS on behalf of the ERISA Industry Committee on proposed anti-backloading regulations. Newman graduated Magna cum laude from Brown University where he earned his BA degree. He earned his JD from Columbia University where he also graduated magna cum laude.

Priscilla E. Ryan is a partner whose practice is concentrated in employee benefits matters. Ms. Ryan represents large multi-national corporations and domestic corporations with multi-state operations on issues related to the design, implementation and administration of retirement plans, health plans, fringe benefits, equity-based compensation, deferred compensation and executive compensation.

Ms. Ryan's practice includes advising clients on the implications of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act on their group health plans. Ms. Ryan has long been primarily responsible for the firm’s insurance policies (other than malpractice insurance), including policies providing for health and disability benefits, as well as other employee welfare benefits. Ms. Ryan also regularly advises clients on ERISA fiduciary rules and has trained plan committees on their fiduciary responsibilities under ERISA. One aspect of her practice involves providing ERISA litigation support in class action lawsuits. Ms. Ryan has represented clients on a variety of matters before the Treasury Department, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Labor and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation.

Ms. Ryan is recognized as a leading lawyer, receiving the number one ranking in Chambers USA: America’s Leading Lawyers for Business in Employee Benefits & Compensation: Illinois (2006 - 2012) and the number two ranking nationwide for Employee Benefits & Executive Compensation (2010 - 2012). She has been recognized in the field of ERISA Litigation in The Legal 500 U.S. (2011 and 2012). Also, since 2006, she has been recognized in the specialty of Employee Benefits Law by Best Lawyers in America, a recent partner of U.S. News & World Report.

Ms. Ryan has lectured on numerous employee benefit topics, has authored articles appearing in various tax and employee benefit periodicals, and has been a member of the faculty of numerous professional seminars. During 1988 and 1989, Ms. Ryan served as an attorney-advisor in the Office of Tax Policy of the U.S. Treasury Department.

Kurt Lawson is a partner with Hogan Lovells in Washington DC, where he focuses on issues involving executive compensation, tax-qualified retirement plans and welfare benefit plans, and ERISA fiduciary and prohibited transaction issues. From 1989 through 1993, Kurt served in the U.S. Department of Treasury's Office of Benefits Tax Counsel, where, among other things, he played a leading role in developing regulations on section 401(k) arrangements and served on the Clinton administration's task force on health care reform.

Among other interests, Kurt has worked extensively on benefit plans of tax-exempt and governmental employers, and benefit plans for partnerships and LLCs. He also regularly advises clients on ERISA and tax issues raised by venture capital, real estate and other pension plan investments, and has considerable experience with employment tax issues, including the classification of workers as employees or independent contractors and taxes on foreign nationals. He also monitors legislative and regulatory developments for clients and helps them pursue appropriate changes.

Kurt is immediate past chair of the Employee Benefits Committee of the American Bar Association Tax Section. He speaks and writes regularly on employee benefits topics and is an adjunct professor at the Georgetown University Law Center.