Ministry organizations among defendants
By JULIE MINDA
Much is at stake if plaintiffs prevail in a spate of lawsuits that class action law firms have filed over the past several years against faith-based health care providers, according to attorneys for CHA. The suits claim the providers are not "churches" and thus should not be allowed a church-based exemption from the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.
CHA in-house and outside counsel told Catholic Health World if the plaintiffs prevail, faith-based providers may be subject to a costly revamp of their employee pension plans and they also may lose ground in their ongoing struggle to maintain their religious exemption in other legal matters.
Mark E. Chopko is CHA's counsel of record in an amicus brief CHA filed Aug. 15 in support of petitions to the Supreme Court to hear appeals in two church plan suits. The cases involve Advocate Health Care Network of the Chicago area and Saint Peter's Healthcare System of New Brunswick, N.J. The systems are asking the Supreme Court to overturn rulings by two federal courts of appeals that their respective plans are not church plans and are thus not exempt from ERISA regulations.
Chopko said the position of the challengers bringing the suits is "that no religious exemption is permissible. None."
Chopko said the plaintiffs' challenges get at the heart of the question: What is "the church?"