The Aftermath of the Cash Balance Controversy: Defining Age Discrimination for Traditional Defined Benefit Pensions
47 Pages Posted: 4 Feb 2009 Last revised: 29 Mar 2015
Date Written: February 3, 2009
The appellate decisions upholding cash balance pensions against the claim of age discrimination are unconvincing. Nevertheless, these decisions reach the proper result as a matter of pension policy. These decisions read the statutory term "benefit accrual" as meaning employer contributions for purposes of measuring for age-based pension discrimination in the defined benefit context. However unpersuasive this reading may be as a textual matter, it reaches a sound outcome in terms of pension policy. In particular, this reading of the pension age discrimination statutes enables employers sponsoring traditional, annuity-paying defined benefit pensions to control their costs by decreasing the annual growth of the accrued benefits earned by older employees. This ability to subdue costs will encourage employers to remain with their traditional defined benefit plans rather than move to the cash balance format or 401(k). On the other hand, controlling costs by reducing the rates at which older workers accrue additional benefits will disappoint the reasonable pension expectations of some, perhaps many, of those older workers.
Keywords: pensions, 401(k), age discrimination, defined benefit plans, pension protection act, annuity
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