Employee Benefits Law Firm Marks 25 Years; Looks Back at Milestone Cases That Changed the Law

From autism coverage to new pension protections in bankruptcy, common denominator is mission-driven plaintiffs

Media Contact: Barbara M. Fornasiero, EAFocus Communications; barbara@eafocus.com; 248.260.8466

Royal Oak, Mich.—-March 6, 2024—National employee benefits and ERISA attorney and litigator John Joseph (J.J.) Conway of Michigan-based firm J.J. Conway Law, is celebrating his firm’s 25th anniversary in 2024. Whether as a solo attorney or serving as co-counsel, Conway has been involved with some of the most significant cases in employee benefits law history since his firm’s legal journey began.

“From 1999 to today, there has been an evolution in employee benefits and ERISA law that has allowed us to establish employee benefits litigation as a complex subspecialty of employment law,” Conway said. “It’s been a dynamic period for employee benefits law – and litigation has shed a light on the important role employee benefits play people’s lives – and in their financial survival.”

Based in Michigan but serving clients throughout the country, Conway is a nationally recognized trial attorney advocating for employees facing benefit disputes involving disability and health insurance and ERISA-protected pensions and 401(k) accounts. When reflecting on key individual and class action cases over the past 25 years, Conway notes the consistent thread: they were impactful because they were mission-led by plaintiffs.

“The clients thought beyond themselves in the context of a greater need. They wanted a win for everyone struggling with the same challenges and injustice – and they succeeded,” Conway said. “While their cases have ended, the positive impact remains to benefit others.” 

Conway specifically calls out the contributions of his clients in the following cases, noting their transformative effect on employee benefits law.

  1. Mayfield v. ASC Corporation. A sales executive father challenged the routine denials of healthcare benefits for children with autism. Previously, parents were reluctant to have an autism diagnosis appear in a child’s medical file because of the problems they faced with insurance. Mayfield was the first in the nation to secure a federal court ruling that the denial of benefits for a child was “arbitrary and capricious” under ERISA. Mayfield used his persuasive salesmanship skills to overcome nearly every obstacle in the case and then brought others along with him in the fight for better coverage.
  2. Johns v. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. Building on Mayfield, a couple with a young son with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) served as the first lead class action plaintiff and ultimately made the settlement decision allowing hundreds of families to recover their out-of-pocket charges for specialized therapy. The groundbreaking suit led to class action litigation across the U.S. Each case built upon the one before it; when it was over, nearly every child born in the U.S. with autism who is covered under a private plan of insurance has coverage for specialized and medically necessary care.
  3. Estes v. Anderson. A union worker and later plant manager with a decades-long career of service to the City of Detroit took on her pension’s trustees and advisors and brought about real change after years of corruption that contributed to the city’s bankruptcy. Her efforts sought to reform how her pension plan’s money was invested – and she succeeded. The plan’s finances were put on a more stable footing for the future, and the pensions of more than 15,000 retirees were salvaged.
  4. DeLisle v. Sun Life Assurance Company of Canada. Sherry DeLisle’s seven-year legal battle led to the Sixth Circuit adopting an “evaluation of factors” approach to resolving ERISA benefits disputes.  Prior to DeLisle, courts struggled in deciding how to properly consider the impact of a financial conflict of interest when an insurance company decides whether to pay benefits. Eventually, state insurance laws would remove some of these unfair practices, but until DeLisle, the proper method of evaluating this issue was largely inconsistent throughout the Circuit.
  5. Wallace v. Oakwood Hospital. A nurse who contracted an infectious disease overseas later challenged an insurer’s requirement that she formally exhaust her pre-suit administrative remedies – even though her contract never included such a requirement. For years, the “exhaustion doctrine” was used regularly to dismiss valid ERISA claims on what amounted to a technicality. Wallace’s case challenged whether benefit plans could enforce such a requirement when a plan document contained no such requirement. Prior to her case, an exhaustion requirement was presumed to apply. This ruling allowed many claimants another chance to seek benefits where they previously had been denied.
  6. Bryant M. A family turned their own case into a larger quest for appropriate mental health coverage for children and teens through a movement that sought to change Michigan’s law on mental health parity. They established an online clearinghouse that provides information about benefits to families in need. The efforts of this one family have helped hundreds of families struggling to secure intensive mental healthcare treatments for adolescents in crisis. The work this family does could easily be a full-time job, but they forge on, undeterred.

Looking ahead to the next era of employee benefits litigation, Conway points to the lawsuit he filed in January against The Hartford Life and Accident Insurance Company for denying contractually promised long-term disability coverage to his client, a former healthcare administrator suffering from Post-COVID-Conditions (PCC) rendering her unable to work.

“Employee benefits reflect societal trends, as does this case. Four years ago, no one had heard of Post-COVID-Conditions; now we’re fighting to make sure PCC is a recognized diagnosis for long-term disability claims. The case is an excellent example of why employee benefits litigation is a fascinating area of the law.” 

About J.J. Conway Law

J.J. Conway Law, an employee benefits litigation and ERISA firm founded by John Joseph (J.J.) Conway in 1999, represents those seeking full access to the employee benefits they earned and are legally entitled to. The firm has been involved with nationally significant employee benefit, disability and pension cases, including class action lawsuits for such landmark decisions as requiring Michigan private insurers to cover autism health treatments for children through age 18 and protecting the pension rights of City of Detroit employees, police and firefighters as well as Wayne County employees by holding their trustees accountable for investment decisions. The firm’s motto, Conquer Tomorrow®, is dedicated to making the future easier for their clients across the United States.  Learn more on the firm’s website.