Nurses Call for Approval for $40M+ Settlement in Putative Class Action

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In a putative consolidated class action alleging St. Joseph’s Healthcare System acted in violation of the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act, counsel for the plaintiffs called for approval on a settlement in excess of $40 million. Counsel noted that a related high court ruling set their case back. When seeking preliminary approval, plaintiffs stated that St. Joseph’s already put $45 million towards an employee pension plan as a part of the proposed deal. This is $2.5 million more than is required by according to tentative agreements between parties.

The plaintiffs’ motion for preliminary approval is unopposed and the completed payment represents half of the agreed upon funding. The plan is designed to offer relief to the class members and remove the uncertainty of litigation while addressing the original concern of improving the retirement security for plan participants/class members.

Plaintiffs in the case allege that St. Joseph’s denied ERISA protections to plan participants and beneficiaries of their pension plan and that they did so by incorrectly claiming the plan was exempt under ERISA due to claims that it was actually a church plan. Central to plaintiff arguments against this line of reasoning is that a church plan must be established by a church in order to legally qualify for this level of exemption.

On June 5th, a Supreme Court opinion extended ERISA’s religious exemption to include benefit plans that are maintained by church affiliates. This decision overturned a number of federal circuit court rulings maintaining that this particular exemption could only be applicable when the benefit plan was established by the church itself. The decision also effectively negated the plaintiffs’ main argument that only a church established plan can qualify as a “church plan” for ERISA.

The plaintiff case included additional arguments, but it cannot be argued that the June 5th Supreme Court opinion negatively affected the decision on the case. Due to this, the settlement is particularly favorable for the proposed class. The ruling was handed down after parties in the St. Joseph’s case had already negotiated settlement terms and memorialized key terms of the proposed agreement.

According to the Proposed Settlement Terms:

·       Accrued benefits will be paid over a seven-year period.

·       Summary plan descriptions will be provided.

·       Pension benefit statements will be provided.

·       Other certain protections similar to ERISA provisions will be included.

If you need to discuss an ERISA violation, please get in touch with one of the experienced California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.