A $60 million settlement between SSM Health Care Corp., St. Louis, and pension plan participants, in a lawsuit that challenged the non-profit corporation's church plan status, was approved Thursday, according to court documents filed in U.S. District Court in St. Louis.
U.S. District Judge Henry E. Autrey said the settlement offers "real and substantial" benefits to SSM Health employee retirement plan participants, who claimed the sponsor underfunded the plan by roughly $813 million.
Participants in several SSM Health pension plans in Illinois, Missouri, Oklahoma and Wisconsin claimed in a lawsuit originally filed in 2016, and amended in 2017, that SSM Health did not meet statutory requirements to qualify as a church plan exempt from the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974. The alleged ERISA violations in the lawsuit included failing to provide summary plan descriptions, annual reports or funding notices, and underfunding the plans. Plan asset information was not available.
SSM had Roman Catholic Church roots as a hospital system started by the Sisters of St. Mary. In 1982, it become SSM Health, and then SSM Health Ministries in 2013.
The settlement requires SSM Health to fully fund the plan for 10 years, contribute $15 million per year to the plan from 2019 to 2022 and make additional payments to workers who received their retirement savings in a lump sum. The hospital system's settlement-imposed plan contributions total $60 million.