May 30, 2017

The Employee Retirement Income Security Act regulates employee-benefit plans to protect the interests of employees who participate in the plans. To avoid undue governmental intrusion in church affairs, the Act provides an exemption for plans established by churches. Some non-church entities have begun to claim this exemption.

Catholic Health Initiatives is a network of hospitals affiliated with the Catholic Church. It has a large number of employees whose duties are purely secular. By claiming the church exemption, Catholic Health is able to maintain subpar benefit plans that imperil the financial well-being of its employees. In May 2013, a former employee of Catholic Health brought a class action against the hospital network, seeking to require Catholic Health to comply with ERISA. The trial court ruled in favor of Catholic Health. The employee appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit.

In June 2016, we filed an amicus brief in support of the employee. We argued that interpreting ERISA’s church exemption to extend to entities like Catholic Health would inflict serious harms on employees and would violate the Establishment Clause. Our brief also argued that the First Amendment does not require the government to treat all religiously affiliated entities like houses of worship. In October 2016, the parties completed briefing. In December 2016, the Tenth Circuit decided to hold the case until the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the pending ERISA cases it has accepted for review.