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BlackRock Cleared for $9.7 Million 401(k) Fund Class Settlement

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BlackRock Institutional Trust Co. got early approval from a California federal judge for a $9.65 million class settlement in a lawsuit challenging the in-house funds in its employees’ 401(k) plan.

The deal, which represents nearly one-third of the class’s potential damages, provides relief to about 17,000 people covered by BlackRock’s $1.8 billion retirement plan. Judge Haywood S. Gilliam Jr. of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California signed the preliminary approval order on Monday.

The lawsuit accuses BlackRock—the world’s largest asset management company—of taking unreasonable profits from the collective investment trusts it offers to retirement plans, including the plan covering its own workers. Last year Gilliam certified a class of thousands of workers covered by the BlackRock plan, but declined to certify a larger class of investors in more than 250 other retirement plans that offer BlackRock’s collective trusts.

The parties reached a tentative deal in February, one month after Gilliam ruled the 401(k) investors could go to trial on their claims under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act. They were scheduled to begin a seven-day trial on March 1.

BlackRock is one of the dozens of employers that have been sued under ERISA for putting their own mutual funds in their workers’ 401(k) plans. These cases have garnered more than $430 million in settlements in recent years, with settling employers including Reliance Trust Co. ($39.8 million), McKinsey & Co. ($39.5 million), SunTrust Banks Inc. ($29 million), Fidelity Investments ($28.5 million), BB&T Corp. ($24 million), and Deutsche Bank ($21.9 million).

The class is represented by Feinberg Jackson Worthman & Wasow LLP and Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC. BlackRock is represented by O’Melveny & Myers LLP.

The case is Baird v. BlackRock Institutional Tr. Co., N.D. Cal., No. 4:17-cv-01892, settlement approval order 7/12/21.