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U.S. Supreme Court to rule on pension plan case

Pennsylvania employees may be interested to learn that a case involving church-affiliated health care institutions and pension plans was being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court. The case involved whether or not church-affiliated pension plans that were not established or maintained by the church should be exempt from Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 regulations.

The court heard oral arguments in the case on March 27. The attorney for the three church organizations argued that pension plans that were not established by the church had been exempt from ERISA for the last 30 years. The attorneys for the employees argued that there was no reason that the religious employers should not protect their employees with insurance protection in the event that the pension plan fails.

The court was reviewing three opinions that dealt with the same issue. In all three cases, the employees argued that the hospitals wrongly classified their pension plans as exempt from ERISA. If the court rules for the employees, the hospitals may potentially be required to pay penalties that could amount to billions of dollars. If it rules in favor of the hospitals, the employees' pension plans could remain underfunded.

If an employer fails to pay benefits or wrongly classifies an employee's pension, an employee rights attorney may assist with any litigation. The attorney may back the allegations made by the employee by referring to previous court decisions and other evidence that could be essential. Prior to going to court, the attorney may attempt to negotiate with the employer in order to seek benefits that the employer was legally required to provide but had not.

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