A Challenge to Actuarial Assumptions in Defined Benefit Plans: Are Optional Forms of Benefits Actuarially Equivalent?

Recent Case Law, Claims and Defenses, Fiduciary Obligations, Avoiding Administrative Pitfalls, Plan Modifications

Recording of a 90-minute premium CLE webinar with Q&A

Conducted on Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Recorded event now available

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Program Materials

This CLE webinar will provide ERISA counsel and advisers an in-depth analysis of the use of actuarial assumptions in defined benefit plans. The panel will discuss recent court cases, including plaintiffs’ claims, possible defenses, and court decisions on defendants’ motions to dismiss. The panel will also discuss key considerations for plan sponsors and fiduciaries who may be at risk of facing these claims from participants and beneficiaries.


In a recent wave of lawsuits against plan sponsors such as MetLife, Pepsi, and American Airlines, as well as plan administrators, plaintiffs challenge the actuarial assumptions used in calculating optional forms of benefits under defined benefit plans. ERISA counsel and advisers must understand the potential liability associated with the use of actuarial assumptions and the legal and actuarial principles underpinning that potential liability.

Defined benefit plans use actuarial assumptions when calculating optional forms of benefits (such as joint-and-survivor or certain-and-life annuities) or early retirement benefits, which must be actuarially equivalent to a single life annuity. In these cases, plaintiffs challenge the actuarial assumptions—typically the use of an older mortality table—claiming that the assumptions do not produce actuarially equivalent benefits as required under ERISA. This, plaintiffs argue, causes retirees to lose portions of their vested retirement benefits.

Listen as our panel discusses the impact of recent actuarial equivalent court cases on plan administration and compliance, potential defenses, and relief under ERISA, possible plan modifications, and other critical considerations for plan sponsors and fiduciaries.



  1. Overview of the use of actuarial assumptions in retirement plans
  2. Fiduciary obligations and liability
  3. Recent cases and developments: plaintiffs’ claims, defenses, and court decisions
  4. Best practices for ERISA counsel and plan sponsors


The panel will review these and other key issues:

  • The use of actuarial assumptions in retirement plans’ calculation of optional forms of benefits
  • Recent court cases challenging plans’ actuarial assumptions
  • Plan sponsor and administrator defenses
  • Critical considerations for plan sponsors and administrators


Kohn, Katherine
Katherine B. Kohn

Of Counsel
Groom Law Group

Ms. Kohn is Of Counsel in Groom Law Group’s Litigation practice group. She specializes in ERISA litigation...  |  Read More

Lamb, Brian
Brian J. Lamb

Thompson Hine

Mr. Lamb represents companies and their directors and officers in complex business disputes, including ERISA...  |  Read More

Shapiro, Joshua
Joshua Shapiro

Senior Actuarial Advisor
Groom Law Group

Mr. Shapiro’s practice focuses on the design funding, and administration of multiemployer, single employer, and...  |  Read More

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