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Lawsuits filed in four states accuse seven large companies of violating pension laws by allowing their employees to be overcharged by outside firms operating 401(k) retirement plans. The employees were charged millions of dollars in excessive management fees, which often were hidden in obscure agreements and not disclosed to the workers, according to attorney Jerome Schlichter, who filed the suits earlier this month in federal district courts in California, Connecticut, Illinois and Missouri. At worst, ‘illegal’ “At best, these fee structures are complicated and confusing when disclosed to plan participants,” said the suits, which seek class action status. “At worst, they are excessive, undisclosed and illegal.” The companies named in the lawsuits are Lockheed Martin Corp., General Dynamics Corp., United Technologies Corp., Bechtel Group, Caterpillar Inc., Exelon Corp. and International Paper Co. Together, the companies have more than 400,000 employees in 401(k) plans, the lawsuits said. General Dynamics spokesman Rob Doolittle declined to comment, citing the ongoing litigation. Lockheed spokesman Thomas Greer said the claims are without merit but declined to comment on the specifics of the company’s plan. Comments were not immediately available from the other firms. United Technologies spokesman John Moran told the Los Angeles Times that the lawsuit was meritless, and he defended the company’s retirement plan. Schlichter of Schlichter Bogard & Denton in St. Louis said his firm’s research found that the companies cared little about what their workers had to pay in fees. In so-called defined-contribution retirement plans, employers don’t guarantee future payments to workers as they do under defined-benefit plans, he said. “There were employees concerned about their return and the lawsuit was the product of a lengthy investigation,” he said. “These practices are specific to the particular plans involved.”

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