It happens all the time: employees who are considering retirement ask HR staff about their post-employment benefits. If the answers those employees receive turn out to be incorrect, the responders may be accused of violating their fiduciary duties under ERISA, and the plans at issue may be required to pay unexpected benefits. This is why ERISA lawyers insist that online pension calculators and personalized benefit estimates include conspicuous disclaimers.

A manufacturer in Ohio recently learned the value of those disclaimers after a federal court rejected “estoppel” and fiduciary breach claims asserted by a participant whose monthly retirement benefit turned out to be less than half of what she was told it would be. (Stark v. Mars, Inc., S.D. Ohio, July 17, 2012)

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