Slicing Through the Gordian Knot: “Employers,” Standing, and Removal Under ERISA

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 causes judi-cial and legislative confusion of mythological proportions. The simple issue of an employer’s standing to sue his or her benefits provider under ERISA has become a major source of judicial uncertainty owing to ERISA’s tangled web of interlocking definitional provisions. This note recommends that courts determine as a threshold matter whether a plain-tiff is an “employer” under common law agency principles, rather than under ERISA’s circular definition of the term. Once the term “employer” is defined more usefully in this fashion, ERISA’s other crucial terms—such as “employee,” “participant,” “beneficiary,” and “employee welfare benefits plan”—become helpful interpretive guides, instead of the statutory construction pitfalls they are currently. The author’s recommendation of implementing a modified version of the minority approach would, if adopted, permit courts to slice through the Gordian Knot and swiftly resolve ERISA employer standing cases consistent with the statute’s purpose.

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