John A. Nixon practices in the area of employee benefits and executive compensation. He represents plan sponsors, executives and product providers in a range of issues, including: federal tax requirements for governmental and private sector pension, retirement and equity plans; executive employment and separation negotiations; trustee fiduciary duties under ERISA and state laws (for governmental plans); and 409A and 457(f) compliance for nonqualified deferred compensation arrangements. He also represents plan sponsors before the Internal Revenue Service and the Department of Labor in determination letter applications, plan audits and corrective procedures under IRS and DOL remedial programs.
Mr. Nixon is a nationally recognized lecturer, commentator and author on executive compensation and employee benefits issues. He is listed in Chambers USA: America's Leading Business Lawyers as one of the nation’s top attorneys (Employee Benefits & Compensation) and has been named in Pennsylvania Super Lawyers. Mr. Nixon is a member of the Executive Leadership Council (ELC) and National Association of Public Pension Attorneys (“NAPPA”) where he serves as Chair of the NAPPA Tax Section. He also serves as an Executive in Residence at the Columbia University School of Professional Studies.
Mr. Nixon is a graduate of the University of Michigan Law School and holds a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
- Represented a team doctor for a professional sports franchise in contract negotiations concerning his separation from the organization, restructuring of non-competition restrictions, and subsequent hiring by a competing franchise.
- Represented State Auditor General in preparing report for state legislature addressing the tax and fiduciary compliance of statewide voluntary firefighter system.
- Advised State Investment Board ($68 billion) on fiduciary issues under applicative state law with respect to "environmental, social, and governance" investing.
- Represented C-Suite executives in planned retirement, succession, and other career transition negotiations.
- Represented Chief Executives and other "C-Suite" officers in executive compensation and employment agreement negotiations in healthcare, higher education, financial services foundation and energy industries.
- Obtained compliance letter under the Employee Plans Compliance Resolution Program (EPCRS) on behalf of a $51 billion public-sector pension fund.
- Obtained favorable determination letter on behalf of $44 billion teacher retirement system.
- Represented $24.5 billion defined benefit system in Internal Revenue Service audit. Responded to or defended 20 information document requests. Secured finding of "no action required."
- Represent executives of publicly traded company securing refund of local taxes paid on option exercise and restricted stock payouts.
- Negotiated custodial, securities lending and third party administration agreements on behalf of market leading bank holding company.
- Negotiated post-TARP executive employment agreements on behalf of publicly held manufacturing company, developing appropriate compliance strategies under IRC Sections 162(m), 280G and 409A.
- Advised publicly held energy company on strategic options with respect to qualified-plan transitions in connection with a $4.3-billion acquisition in which the client's workforce was split between acquiring corporation and related target company.
- Provided fiduciary-obligations training to the retirement board of a $34 billion defined-benefit fund.
- Advised $38 billion public-sector fund on fiduciary duties regarding the disclosure of member benefit data.
- Drafted plan document for public utility implementing optional defined contribution plan linked to eligible deferred compensation plan (457(b)).
- Drafted legislation implementing a defined contribution plan for newly hired employees of municipality.
- Advised the retirement-plans board of publicly held manufacturing company on fiduciary duties with respect to plans subject to participant self-direction under section 404(c) of ERISA.
- Drafted template 457(b) documentation for mutual fund provider.
- Drafted master and prototype defined contribution documents and related adoption agreements for publicly held financial services firm.
Areas of Practice
- Executive Compensation
- Public Sector Pension and Welfare Funds
- Fiduciary Compliance
- ERISA and Employee Benefits
- U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit
- University of Michigan Law School, J.D., 1988
- The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, B.S., 1985
National Association of Public Pension Attorneys
- Chair, Tax Committee
- Executive Leadership Council
Columbia University School of Professional Studies – Executive in Residence
Philadelphia Bar Association
- Former Chair, Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation Committee
Honors and Awards
Named a Minority Business Leader by the Philadelphia Business Journal, 2019
Philadelphia Business Journal Best of the Bar: Top Lawyers in Philadelphia - Employee Benefits, 2018
Listed in Chambers USA: America's Leading Lawyers for Business, 2018 and 2019
Awarded the Leadership Excellence Award by The Pennsylvania Diversity Council, 2017
- Pennsylvania Super Lawyers
- Super Lawyers, Business Edition
- AV Preeminent® Peer Review Rated by Martindale-Hubbell®
Civic and Charitable Activities
Mann Center for the Performing Arts
- Board of Directors
Ministers and Missionaries Benefits Fund (Pension Plan of the American Baptist Church), Board of Trustees
- Leadership, Inc. of Philadelphia
- Mayor's Transition Committee for Mayor Michael Nutter, 2008
Author, "Proxy Advisors and Executive Compensation: Who Watches the Watchers?," Philadelphia Business Journal, May 3, 2019
Author, "What it Means: IRS Expands Comp Rules for Tax-Exempts and Governmental Executives," Philadelphia Business Journal, July 11, 2016
- Author, "Happy Anniversary! Here's a Dodd-Frank 'Gift' from the SEC," Philadelphia Business Journal, August 14, 2015
- Quoted in "Unreleased Technical Advice Memoranda Illuminate IRS Position on Pension Deferral Plans," Tax Analysts Tax Notes Today, August 7, 2013
- Author, "The DOMA Decision and Employee Benefits: The 'Known Knowns'," The Philadelphia Business Journal, July 15, 2013
- Quoted in "Public Plans and Social Investing: When Doing the Right Thing Is Not Enough," Bloomberg BNA Pension & Benefits Daily," February 26, 2013
- Author, "IRS Extends Determination Letter Filing Deadline for Governmental Plans," Duane Morris Alert, November 27, 2012
- Co-author, "Deferred Compensation for Tax-Exempt and Governmental Executives," The Legal Intelligencer, September 29, 2010
- Co-author, "IRS Offers Relief for Government-Sponsored Pension Plans in Determination Letter Process," Duane Morris Alert, August 17, 2009
- Author, "Par for the Course in the Comp Game," Financial Week, November 2007
- Author, "Independent Contractor Alert – The IRS and State Labor Department Talk Aimed at Employee Misclassification," HR Advisor, February 2008
Selected Speaking Engagements
Speaker, "Negotiation of Your Executive Compensation and Terms," Executive Leadership Council’s Women’s Leadership Forum, July 18, 2019
Speaker, "Negotiating Your C-Suite Compensation," ELC/McKinsey C-Suite Academy, Philadelphia, June 10-12, 2019
Speaker, "Trustee Workshop 101 – Knowing the Basics," Pennsylvania Association of Public Employmee Retirement Systems Annual Forum, May 29, 2019
Speaker, "Trends in Compensation: What You Need to Know," Columbia University, Executive in Residence Speaker Series, New York City, May 20, 2019
Moderator, "I Can’t Believe They Did This!” – Educating Your Legislature on Tax Laws Affecting Pension Reform Legislation” National Association of Public Pension Attorneys (NAPPA) 2019 Legal Education Conference, San Diego, CA, June 25 – June 28, 2019
Speaker, "Fiduciary Duties for Retirement Plans," Duane Morris' Developments in Workplace Law and Practice, Philadelphia, May 7, 2019
Speaker, "Compensation Negotiation Strategy," Chief Legal Executive, LLC, Ascent In-House Network Retreat, Scottsdale, AZ, March 1-3, 2019
Moderator, "The New Congress – What to Expect" and “457(b) and 401(k) – New Options for Governmental Sponsors” National Association of Public Pension Attorneys (NAPPA) 2019 Winter Seminar, Tempe, AZ, February 20-22, 2019
Speaker, "The IRS Wants You! Are You in Compliance?" Pennsylvania Association of Public Employee Retirement Systems (PAPERS) 12th Annual Fall Workshop, November 28, 2018
Speaker, "Governmental Plans Update," ALI CLE Course on Employee Benefit Plans of Tax-Exempt and Governmental Employers, Washington, DC, September 24-25, 2018
Keynote Speaker, "Fiduciary Duties of Public Fund Trustees in an Evolving Landscape," NAST Annual Conference, The Scottsdale Resort at McCormick Ranch, Scottsdale, AZ, October 1, 2018
Speaker, “The Conflicted Advisor,” NAPPA 2018 Legal Education Conference, Savannah, GA, June 26-29, 2018
Speaker, "Negotiating Your C-Suite Compensation” ELC/McKinsey C-Suite Academy, New York City, June 18-20, 2018
Speaker, "Planning the Next Phase" Executive Leadership Council Annual Meeting, The Fairmont Olympic Hotel, Seattle, WA, June 6-9, 2018
Speaker, "Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 ("TCJA"): Impact on Executive Compensation," National Association of Public Pension Attorneys (NAPPA) 2018 Winter Seminar, February 21-February 23, 2018, Tempe, AZ
Speaker, "Doing Good While Doing Well: ETIs, ESG and Governmental Fund Fiduciary Duties," ALI CLE Course on Employee Benefit Plans of Tax-Exempt and Governmental Employers, Washington, DC, October 5-6, 2017
- Speaker, "Negotiating Your C-Suite Compensation and Terms . . . Leave Nothing on the Table," C-Suite Academy, Washington DC, September 27, 2017
- Speaker, Duane Morris' Developments in Workplace Law and Practice, Philadelphia, May 3, 2017
- Moderator, "Public Fund Investments in Infrastructure—Is it Time?" National Association of Public Pension Attorneys ("NAPPA") 2017 Winter Seminar, Tempe, AZ, February 23, 2017
- Speaker, "Hot Tax Topics for 2016 and Beyond," National Association of Public Pension Attorneys (NAPPA) 2016 Legal Education conference, June 23, 2016
- Speaker, "Negotiating Your C-Suite Compensation and Perks," Executive Leadership Council C-Suite Academy, New York City, September 27, 2016
- Speaker, "Retirement Benefits for the Growing class of 'Highly compensated' Public Employees," NAPPA 2016 Legal Education Conference, New Orleans, LA, June 21-24, 2016
- Speaker, "Running the Triangle: The Three Sides of Nonprofit Executive Compensation," Mitchell Titus Spring Seminar Series, Philadelphia, April 5, 2016
- Moderator, Tax Steering Committee Panel, National Association of Public Pension Attorneys (NAPPA) Winter Seminar Meetings, Washington, D.C., February 18, 2016
- Speaker, "Association of Public Pension Fund Auditors (APPFA) 2015 Conference," APPFA, November 1-4, 2015
- Speaker, "National Council on Teacher Retirement (NCTR) 93rd Annual Conference," NCTR, October 13, 2015
- Speaker, "Employee Benefit Plans of Tax-Exempt and Governmental Employers 2015," American Law Institute (ALI), September 10-11, 2015
- Speaker, "The Fiduciary Duties of Trustees in the Public Fund Debate," National Council on Teacher Retirement, 15th Annual Trustee Workshop, Harvard Kennedy School, Cambridge, Massachusetts, July 27-29, 2015
- Speaker, "Tax Issues in Pension Obligation Bonds," National Association of Public Pension Attorneys ("NAPPA") 2015 Education Conference, Austin, Texas, June 25, 2015
- Planning Chair, Tax Section Meeting of the National Association of Public Pension Attorneys ("NAPPA") 2014 Winter Seminar, Tempe, Arizona, February 11-13, 2015
- Speaker, "Ethics Issues in Representing Governmental and Tax-Exempt Employers" and "Governmental Plans Update (other than litigation - DROP, proposed regs, NRA, DLs, 414(h) pickups)," ALI CLE's Employee Benefit Plans of Tax-Exempt and Governmental Employers, September 11-12, 2014
- Speaker, "Ethics," National Association of Public Pension Attorneys ("NAPPA") 2014 Legal Education Conference, Nashville, June 26, 2014
- Speaker, "Pick-Up or CODA — A Key Question for Pension Reform" National Association of Public Pension Attorneys 2014 Winter Seminar, February, 2014
- Speaker, "Government Plans and Bankruptcy," The American Legal Institute Continuing Legal Education Group ("ALI-CLE") program on "Retirement, Deferred Compensation, and Welfare Plans of Tax-Exempt and Governmental Employers," Washington, D.C., September 26-27, 2013
- Panelist, "Tax Hot Topics," National Association of Public Pension Attorneys 2013 Legal Education Conference, Santa Fe, New Mexico, June 28, 2013
- Speaker, "Privatization and the Impact on Governmental Plans," 2013 National Association of Public Pension Attorneys ("NAPPA") Winter Seminar Meeting, Washington, D.C., February 7, 2013
- Panelist, "Restraints on Benefit Cutbacks Under Governmental Plans—Who's Winning and Who's Losing?" and "Other Current Issues for Governmental Plans," ALI-CLE's program on Retirement, Deferred Compensation, and Welfare Plans of Tax-Exempt and Governmental Employers, Washington, D.C., September 20, 2012
- Speaker, "The Bells and Whistles of Persuasion: Perceived and Objective Power in Negotiations," Life in the Big City, City of Philadelphia Law Department CLE, July 20, 2012
- Speaker, "Member Information/Confidentiality," National Association of Public Pension Attorneys' (NAPPA) 2012 Legal Education Conference, June 28, 2012
- Speaker, "Tax Topics: Something Old; Something New," National Association of Public Pension Attorneys' (NAPPA) 2012 Legal Education Conference, June 27, 2012
- Speaker, "Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) on Determination of Governmental Plan Status," National Association of Public Pension Attorneys 2012 Winter Seminar Meetings, Washington, DC, February 2012
- Speaker, "Current Issues for 401(k), 403(b) and Other Defined Contribution Plans" and "Governmental Plans Under Attack," ALI-CLE Silver Anniversary Advanced Course of Study, Washington, D.C., September 2011
- Speaker, "Ethical Questions for Attorneys Representing Governmental Retirement Plans," National Association of Public Pension Attorneys 2011 Legal Education Conference, Seattle, June 2011
- Speaker, "Fiduciary Obligations and Other Current Issues for 401(k), 403(b), and Other Defined Contribution Plans" and "Governmental Plans Update," 24th Annual ALI-ABA Advanced Course of Study, Washington, D.C., September 2010
- Speaker, "Vested Rights and Benefit Changes," National Association of Public Pension Attorneys 2010 Legal Education Conference, Asheville, North Carolina, June 2010
- Speaker, "Issues in Defined Contribution Plans, Deferred Compensation Plans, and Severance Arrangements," part of ALI-ABA Employment Seminar "Retirement, Deferred Compensation, and Welfare Plans of Tax-Exempt and Governmental Employers," September 2009
- Speaker, "Legal Issues Affecting Local Retirement Systems," Pennsylvania Association of Public Employees Retirement Systems 2009 Forum, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, May 2009
- Speaker, "Current & Emerging Trends in Fiduciary Litigation," Louisville Employee Benefits Council, Louisville, Kentucky, December 2008
- Speaker/Moderator, "Global Issues in Employment Law," NBA Commercial Law Section, New Orleans, February 2008
- Speaker, "Getting to the Number — the Design and Negotiation of Executive Compensation," Delaware Valley Human Resources Summit, October 2007
- Lecturer, "Tax Policy of Governmental Retirement System," Temple University LLM Program, 2007-2010