Williams Companies Hit with Enron-Like Suit

March 12, 2002 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - There were strong shades of the Enron debacle in a federal court lawsuit against Williams Companies for allegedly pressuring employees to buy company stock through their 401(k) plan - even though the stock's value was plunging.

The suit against the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based Williams also charged that the company didn’t adequately disclose its true financial decision – particularly the fact that broadband provider Williams Communications Group was close to bankruptcy. Williams also didn’t tell shareholders that it would be liable for $2.5 billion of the Communications Group’s debt since Williams Companies was its corporate parent.

During the past year, Williams’s stock value dropped from $46 per share to just over $14. It now trades around $22.

Williams’ plan rules mandated that its matching contribution be made in company stock and that participants could not transfer company stock assets into other investments. The suit said Williams stock has made up 65% of the plan’s assets since 1999.

More Defendants

In addition to Williams, the complaint names Strategic Investment Solutions Inc., an investment consultant to the Williams plan, as a defendant.

The lawsuit also named 14 Williams directors and executives as defendants. According to the lawsuit, the directors and executives “were positioned such that they had access to adverse undisclosed information about the company’s business, operations, products, operational trends, financial statements, markets and present and future business prospects,” among other information.

The lawsuit is Van Nes v. Williams Companies Inc.