Teufel v. Northern Trust Co., No. 17-1677 (7th Cir. 2018)Annotate this Case
In 2012 Northern changed its defined-benefit pension plan under which retirement income depended on years worked, times an average of the employee’s five highest-earning consecutive years, times a constant (traditional formula). As amended, the plan multiplies the years worked and the high average compensation, by a formula that depends on the number of years worked after 2012 (PEP formula), reducing the pension-accrual rate. Northern provided people hired before 2002 a transitional benefit, treating them as if they were still under the traditional formula but deeming their salaries as increasing at 1.5% per year, without regard to the actual rate of change. Teufel sued, claiming that the amendment, even with the transitional benefit, violated the anti-cutback rule in the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001–1461, and, by harming older workers relative to younger ones, violated the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA), 29 U.S.C. 621–34. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal of the suit. Nothing in the traditional formula guaranteed that any salary would increase in future years; ERISA protects entitlements that make up the “accrued benefit” but does not protect anyone’s hope that the future will improve on the past. Nor does the PEP formula violate the ADEA. Benefits depend on the number of years of credited service and salary, not on age.