In this 2011 photo, volunteer Kim Weems prepares bags of oyster shells as part of a project to restore oyster reefs in the Gulf of Mexico. (AP Photo/Brian Skoloff)

July 15 (Bloomberg) — BP Plc employees can sue managers of the company’s retirement savings plan over losses related to the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill, a U.S. appeals court said.

The New Orleans-based appellate court today, citing a recent Supreme Court ruling, rejected Houston U.S. District Judge Keith Ellison’s 2012 decision denying claims for millions of dollars in losses suffered by the plans.

The suits questioned plan managers’ investment in BP’s shares, which dropped more than 40 percent after the worst offshore spill in U.S. history and still haven’t completely recovered in value.

The plan managers “knew or should have known, based on a variety of sources, that BP shares were not a prudent investment,” the workers alleged in their complaints.

Citing then-prevailing legal precedent, Ellison dismissed the claims because retirement-plan managers who invest in company stock were entitled to a “presumption of prudence” shielding them from litigation.

Last month, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in an unrelated case that company managers aren’t entitled to that presumption when dealing with savings plans covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

‘Same Duty’

“ERISA fiduciaries managing a plan invested in company stock are subject to the same duty of prudence as any other ERISA fiduciary,” the three-judge appeals panel said today, citing the high court order. The panel sent the workers’ suits back to Ellison for reconsideration in light of the new standard.

Geoff Morrell, a spokesman for London-based BP, and Tom Ajamie, a lawyer for the workers, didn’t immediately return telephone or e-mail requests for comment on the ruling.

The case is In Re: BP P.L.C. Securities, 12-20670, U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit (New Orleans).

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