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Supreme Court hears arguments on church-affiliated pensions

New York employees who work for church-affiliated organizations might be interested to know that a lawsuit has reached the Supreme Court about whether or not these organizations' pension plans qualify for a religious exemption. This would mean that the plans are exempt from the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. Lower courts have already unanimously ruled that they are not church plans and thus not exempt because a church does not maintain and did not establish them. Furthermore, employees say that due to the ERISA exemption, the plans are underfunded.

Around 1 million employees at three hospitals will be affected by the decision. If the ruling is not in the hospitals' favor, they may owe employee billions of dollars in penalties.

On March 27, the Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments. They focused on how ERISA defines a church and what importance should be assigned to letters from the Internal Revenue Service that gave the retirement plans church status.

People who believe their employee rights are being violated, whether it is related to their retirement plan, overtime pay, discrimination, wrongful termination, a severance package or for some other reason, may want to speak to an attorney. In some cases, an issue with employee rights can be resolved through the workplace. However, an employer may not always fully understand an employee's rights. In some cases, the employer might try to mislead employees or retaliate against them for raising an issue about their rights. An attorney could assist an employee with negotiations and offer guidance on filing a lawsuit if necessary.

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