Last week, Americans United, the ACLU, and the ACLU of Northern California submitted a friend-of-the-court brief to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in support of a lawsuit by employees against Dignity Health, a Catholic hospital system and one of the largest not-for-profit provider hospital providers in the United States.
Dignity Health claims that because it is a religion-based organization, it should qualify for church exemptions under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA). Americans United disputes this argument, contending that to allow Dignity Health to fall under this exemption merely because it is associated with a church is a violation of the Establishment Clause.
From the brief:
If the plan operated by Dignity Health were categorized as a church plan, the corporation’s over 60,000 employees would suffer significant harms, losing a variety of ERISA protections aimed at preserving their retirement security. Among other things, Dignity Health would be free to underfund its employee pension plan and stop paying premiums necessary for federal pension insurance, could delay the vesting of pension benefits, and would have no obligation to inform employees about the state of their pension plans. Moreover, these harms would affect Dignity Health’s employees, many of whom do not share Dignity Health’s religious beliefs and most of whom perform secular duties.
Dignity Health's attempt to use religion to reclassify itself under ERISA could cause serious harm to over 60,000 individuals and families who depend on their retirement security. Not only that, this lawsuit has implications for employees of any religiously affiliated organization who might claim access to ERISA's church plan should Dignity Health prevail. Americans United calls on the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to reaffirm the decision made by the District Court for the Northern District of California and deny this appeal.