Retirement Funds Hurt by Losses Sue BP

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BOSTON (TheStreet) -- The latest trouble bubbling up for BP (Stock Quote: BP) is the effect its plummeting stock price is having on retirement plans.

Last week, New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli, as a trustee of the $133 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund, said he hired the law firm of Cohen Milstein Sellers & Toll PLLC to represent the fund in a class-action lawsuit against the oil company.

"It's my duty to protect the interests of the fund and the retirees and employees who rely on it," DiNapoli said in a statement. "BP misled investors about its safety procedures and its ability to respond to events like the ongoing oil spill and we're going to hold it accountable."

DiNapoli says the class-action suit is intended to recover damages sustained from the decline in shareholder value subsequent to the Deepwater Horizon's explosion and oil spill. The fund, which provides benefits to more than a million active and retired state and local government employees, held more than 19 million shares at the time of the April disaster.

BP employees will also have the opportunity to join in a separate suit.

Milberg LLP -- a law firm with offices in New York City, Los Angeles, Tampa and Detroit -- said last week it was "investigating possible breaches of fiduciary duties relating to the BP 401(k) plan for U.S. employees, the BP Employee Savings Plan." On June 28, it officially filed its lawsuit in federal court in Chicago.

The firm is questioning whether fiduciaries of the savings plan violated the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA) by "continuing to offer and maintain the BP Stock Fund as an investment option when it was imprudent to do so." Safety violations and the lack of a suitable post-disaster contingency plan are cited as warning signs that should have triggered a move away from the stock.

The firm is seeking the participation of those who suffered post-disaster losses in the BP Employee Savings Plan. The plan had $2.45 billion invested in BP stock at the end of 2009, nearly 30% of its total assets.

Since the Deepwater Horizon explosion, the value of BP's common stock has declined by more than 50%, "decimating the retirement savings of BP employees whose plan accounts are invested in BP stock," a statement from the firm reads. On April 19, a day before the Deepwater Horizon explosion, BP's stock was priced at just over $60. Today it was trading at around $27.75.

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