Amidst a sea of controversy surrounding his ties to the fast-food industry and less than 24 hours before his committee hearing was slated to begin, Andrew Puzder withdrew his nomination for DOL Secretary. In his place, R. Alexander Acosta was chosen.
Assuming this pick pans out — which is extremely likely according to a number of sources — what can HR pros expect from the feds under the watch of an Acosta DOL?
According to attorneys and industry experts, employers can expect Acosta to bring a much more “nuanced” view of labor law, as well as considerable intellect to the role of DOL Secretary.
Acosta comes to the position with an impressive and diverse background. He was a former Assistant Attorney General in the George W. Bush administration and a U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida.
He’s also been through three Senate confirmation hearings, including his 2002 appointment to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB).
Before that, Acosta clerked for Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito on the third circuit Court of Appeals.
This previous experience leads industry experts to believe the DOL will take a vastly different direction under Acosta than it would have under Puzder.
Specifically, experts cited their differences in determining the future of the fiduciary rule.
For example: Lawrence Cagney, the chair of the law firm Debevoise & Plimpton’s Executive Compensation & Employee Benefits Group, summed up the differences by saying:
“The previous nominee [Puzder] struck me as someone with zero tolerance for the fiduciary rule. He was a business person that likely had some experience with wage and hour law, but likely little exposure to fiduciary issues. The difference is that Acosta is a legally trained scholar, and one would have to assume a very smart guy. It can be expected he will be much more contemplative and thoughtful in his approach to the [fiduciary] rule than the previous nominee.”
Because of this, Cagney — as well as a number of other employment law experts — seem to believe Acosta will be able to make the fiduciary rule work — after some changes are made.
And that would ultimately be a positive thing because, as Cagney says:
“There are clear benefits to this rule, and financial institutions are not adverse to working with something that improves protections for retirement investors. But as it’s written it will invite an inordinate amount of litigation.”