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The 2013 Pension 40: Richard Shea

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Richard Shea
Chairman, Employee Benefits and Compensation Practice
Covington & Burling

In 2006 attorney Richard Shea won a seminal class action for Armonk, New York–based IBM Corp. that justified cash balance and pension equity plans. The IBM case ushered in widespread use of these alternatives to traditional defined benefit pensions. There isn’t much about ERISA, the 1974 omnibus pension law, that has escaped Shea’s notice during his 30-year career. Starting with a two-year stint at the U.S. Treasury Department before he joined law firm Covington & Burling in 1991, the Washington-­based tax specialist has “looked at every plan design that ever existed” while working tirelessly to advance the evolution of defined benefit and hybrid pensions. Shea, 60, is realistic about what it will take for new pension designs to fill the vacuum created by shuttered defined benefit plans. “A lot of plan designs became possible once you freed them from the IRS’s own design biases,” the longtime Washington resident says, referring to the Tax Reform Act of 1986. But the Internal Revenue Service has stifled change, Shea charges: “It’s not a responsive system.” The corporate ERISA lawyer showed his dedication to solving pension problems when he teamed up with participant advocate the Pension Rights Center and the Urban Institute social policy think tank for the 2012 Re-Imagining Pensions conference.


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