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IBM underpaid pension benefits for 140,000 employees and ex-employees, according to a US court ruling.

The computer giant changed its pension scheme in 1999 but the court in East St Louis ruled the changes illegal late last week.

The decision opens the door for higher payments for people who lost out as a result of the move from a traditional to "cash-balance" scheme.

The case was brought by IBM employee Kathi Cooper. IBM is meeting plaintiffs this week, but insists it will appeal the ruling, Reuters reports.

The decision is important for several big companies which switched their pension schemes including Eastman Kodak and EDS. ®

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