Duke Energy Workers Sue Over Cash Balance Conversion

February 9, 2006 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Nine years after it converted its defined benefit pension plan to a cash balance arrangement, Duke Energy has been hit with a federal court lawsuit alleging violations of federal age discriminations laws.

The lawsuit, filed in US District Court in South Carolina, charged that, as a result of the company’s cash balance conversion, “older workers lost thousands of dollars in the value of their pensions after putting in decades of work” for the company, the Charlotte Observer reported.

Plaintiffs are asking that the suit be certified as a class action, for an overhaul of the company’s retirement plan with oversight by a third party, and unspecified monetary damages for lost benefits and interest.

The Duke plaintiffs allege that the cash balance plan unfairly harmed older workers in violation of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA). Duke made the change in 1997. The Duke suit mimics a closely-followed legal battle by IBM participants against the computer maker over its cash balance change. IBM lost that case and in 2004 agreed to pay $300 million to thousands of older workers (See Murphy Approves Partial IBM Cash Balance Proposal ).

“We feel the pension conversion was done properly,” Duke spokesman Randy Wheeless said Wednesday. “We are reviewing the lawsuit right now, and we’ll be prepared to address it at the proper time.”