Ascension to pay $29.5M settlement in pension lawsuit

St. Louis-based Ascension Health ended a class-action lawsuit filed against the system and subsidiary Wheaton Franciscan Services in Glendale, Wis., alleging Wheaton erroneously treated its pension plan as a "church plan" exempt from the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act, Bloomberg BNA reports.

Under the settlement, Ascension will pay $29.5 million in benefit payments for Wheaton's retirement plan and up to $2.25 million in legal fees and expenses. Court papers filed Sept. 1 show the deal mandates Ascension to guarantee payment of the $29.5 million for the benefits if the plan cannot cover the costs, the report states.

Ascension and Wheaton denied the allegations in filed court papers, St. Louis Business Journal reports. The settlement requires court approval before it is finalized.

In June, the U.S. Supreme Court held church-affiliated hospitals are not required to comply with ERISA, which governs employee pensions.

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