University Did Not Breach Fiduciary Duties When Modifying Early Retirement Benefits.


The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois grants the motion for summary judgment by the defendant university regarding modification of early retirement benefits for certain faculty.

The plaintiff is a former full-time tenured professor of a private university. The defendant is the university. The plaintiff was hired in 2003. Around 2011, the defendant offered the plaintiff the opportunity to take early retirement under its faculty retirement incentive plan, which provided various benefits to incentivize faculty to 4take early retirement. The defendant only provided the plaintiff with a set of frequently asked questions (FAQs) about plan benefits. The plaintiff did not receive or review a copy of any plan document.

The plaintiff signed an early retirement agreement in February 2011, electing to participate in the plan. The agreement contained an acknowledgment that the plaintiff had received accurate and complete information about plan benefits, that the plaintiff entered into the agreement voluntarily and that the plaintiff agreed to be bound by the terms of the plan. According to its terms, the agreement became irrevocable after seven days and the plaintiff's retirement would go into effect in January 2014, unless the plan was amended by the defendant in a manner that materially affected its terms or benefits, in which case plan participants who had not actually retired yet would need to be notified and those participants could then revoke their prior agreement within 15 days.

Separate from the plan, the defendant offers tuition benefits to some faculty members and their children through an educational assistance plan (EAP). As a tenured professor, the plaintiff met the EAP eligibility requirements. The version of the EAP in effect in February 2011 stated that retired faculty remained eligible for tuition benefits under the EAP if the faculty member retired at or after the age of 65 with at least ten years of tenured service. Under the EAP, the defendant retains the discretion to grant or deny benefits under the plan and reserves the right to amend or terminate the plan in its sole discretion.

In May 2012, the defendant amended the EAP effective as of July 2011 to revise the qualification requirements to provide that only faculty members who retired at or after the age of 65 and had 15 years of consecutive service in an eligible position remained eligible for the tuition benefit. The defendant updated the plan FAQs to...

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