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A Better Partnership

Jennifer Watkins

Partner | Email

  • Detroit

    t. +1.313.546.6192

    f. +1.248.603.9792

Biography

Jennifer Watkins has almost 20 years of experiencing advising employers on the design and administration of their retirement and executive compensation plans. She also represents employers with matters before the Internal Revenue Service, Department of Labor, and Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation. She strives to provide practical advice to clients to help them navigate the complicated benefits rules.

In addition to her work with clients, Jennifer is a member of the firm’s Professional Staff Committee, manages plan and form template drafting for the Employee Benefits/Executive Compensation Practice Group, and is the Partner in Charge of the firm’s retirement programs.

Industries

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Education

  • University of Toledo J.D. 2003 magna cum laude
  • University of Toledo B.B.A. 1999 Information Systems

Admitted

  • 2003, Michigan

Bar Associations

  • American Bar Association
    Taxation and Labor and Employment Sections
  • State Bar of Michigan
    Taxation Section; Governing Council, 2021 Membership & Student Outreach Chair; Employee Benefits Committee

Experience

  • Handled lump sum buy‑out process for multiple defined benefit pension plans, including preparing plan amendments, working with consultants and actuaries, reviewing and negotiating group annuity contracts, and preparing distribution packages
  • Managed termination process for several defined benefit pension plans (traditional and cash balance plans), including amending plans as required, preparing distribution forms, drafting notices to participants, preparing and submitting IRS and PBGC filings, working with actuaries and annuity contract vendors, and managing post-termination PBGC audit
  • Prepared committee charters, authority matrixes, and fiduciary calendars for several clients’ retirement plans
  • Prepared plan documents for merged plans and designed comprehensive packages of administrative forms and processes, including election forms, beneficiary forms, QDRO forms and procedures, and distribution forms, and developed systems for administering and reporting rollovers and distributions
  • Managed and automated qualified domestic relations order (QDRO) approval process for a defined benefit plan with more than 80,000 participants and a 401(k) plan with more than 20,000 participants
  • Set up formal claims processing systems for retirement plans, including development of templates for responses and counseled clients on dozens of claim denials and appeals
  • Designed, prepared, and updated various types of nonqualified executive compensation plans and completed required government filings
  • Analyzed correction paths for nonqualified plan errors under applicable regulations and counseled clients on options
  • Counseled nonprofit and governmental clients on issues to unique to their retirement and executive compensation programs
  • Prepared and successfully negotiated dozens of voluntary correction program (VCP) submissions with IRS
  • Handled several IRS and Department of Labor audits of clients’ retirement plans, including counseling client on document production and organization, acting as main contact with agency representative, and managing communications and negotiations
  • Negotiated settlement with Department of Labor for delinquent annual report filings, which resulted in an 80% penalty reduction
  • Reviewed and negotiated dozens of service agreements with retirement plan and executive compensation plan vendors
  • Managed Request for Proposal (RFP) process for plan-level investment advisory services for several clients, including preparing RFP, fielding questions from candidates, evaluating proposals, and preparing and presenting comprehensive analysis of responses to plan fiduciary

Honors & Awards

  • Named a Top Lawyer in Employee Benefits Law by DBusiness, 2020-2021
  • Named as a Michigan Super Lawyer Rising Star, 2012-2015
  • Order of the Coif
  • Managing Editor, University of Toledo Law Review

Publications

  • Retirement Plan Administration Guide, Chapter 5:  Duties of Pension Plan Administrators, Bloomberg, 2021
  • "Employee Student Loan Burden - 4 Ways to Help," Plan Sponsor News, DiMeo Schneider & Associates, L.L.C., publication, April 2019
  • "13 Things You Need to Know About Compensation," Journal of Pension Benefits, Summer 2012
  • Contributing Author, Employee Benefits Law (Second Edition), Cumulative Supplement, 2006
  • Contributing Author, Employee Benefits Law (Second Edition), Cumulative Supplement, 2005
  • Coauthor, "Division of Retirement Benefits," Michigan Family Law (8th ed.), Michigan Institute of Continuing Legal Education

Ahead of the Curve Auto Supplier Blog

Leadership

Professional Affiliations

  • Inforum - A Professional Women's Alliance, Executive Leadership Program, 2011 Class

Community Affiliations

  • Shelter to Home, Inc.
    Animal Foster Parent, Mary 2013 - Present; Board Marketing & Development Director, October 2019 - Present; Board Secretary, June 2013 - October 2019
  • Wyandotte Animal Shelter
    Animal Photographer, November 2012 - Present
  • Great Lakes Rabbit Sanctuary, Inc.
    Board Member, June 2006 - December 2011

Speaking Engagements

  • "Employee Benefits Webinar Series: Part 2 - Retirement Plan Legal Update," Warner Webinar, July 14, 2021
  • "Employee Benefits Webinar Series: Part 1 - Retirement Plans: Preparing Your Plan for the New Normal, Year-End, and Beyond," Warner Webinar, October 27, 2020
  • "The New Normal and What’s Next for Retirement Plans," Warner Webinar, June 11, 2020
  • "Employee Benefits Panel," Warner 2019 HR Executive Panels, October 16, 2019, Kalamazoo, Michigan
  • "Tips and Traps: Executive Compensation and the Tangled Web of 409A," FEI Detroit, October 8, 2019
  • "Crafting Deferred Compensation Solutions," Warner Human Resources Seminar, May 7, 2019, Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • "Employee Benefits Panel," Warner 2018 HR Executive Panels, October 12, 2018, Kalamazoo, Michigan
  • "The Who, What, When and How of ERISA's Reporting and Disclosure Requirements for Retirement Plans," Warner Human Resources Seminar, May 3, 2018, Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • "401(k) Withdrawal Dos and Don'ts," Warner Human Resources Seminar, May 23, 2017, Grand Rapids, Michigan
  • "How Does Compensation Affect Your Benefit Plan? 10 Things You Need to Know," Warner Human Resources Seminar (2012)
  • "Retirement Plan Issues in Uncertain Times," Warner Human Resources Seminar (March 2010)

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