Written by Don Byrd
On Friday, the U.S. Supreme Court announced it would hear the appeal in a trio of cases questioning the proper interpretation of the exemption for houses of worship from the federal law (ERISA) regulating employer-based retirement plans. Specifically, the cases ask whether retirement plans operated by church-affiliated hospitals are subject to the law.
Plaintiffs in all three suits are employees of church-affiliated health facilities who claim the law should apply to protect their pensions, and that their retirement plans are substantially underfunded under the law. The hospitals claim that a ruling in favor of plaintiffs would have dire consequences.
The hospitals say those rulings conflict with the longstanding understanding that religious organizations are exempt from the pension law, just like churches themselves are.
“These suits seek billions in retroactive liability and a wholesale upheaval in the administration of pension plans affecting religious employers and employees across the country,” according to appeals filed by three hospital systems, including Advocate Health Care Network.
Appeals courts have thus far refused to dismiss the cases, prompting dozens of class-action lawsuits according to one of the petitions to the Supreme Court. You can read more at SCOTUSblog’s case page.