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tress, Publisher’s termination of its defined benefit pension plan, a federal judge dismissed seven of 12 claims against the publishing house and seven of nine claims against the ELCA.


Michael J. Davis, chief judge of the U.S. District Court of Minnesota, ruled Jan. 27 that the terminated plan is a church plan and therefore exempt from the federal Employee Retire- ment Income Security Act. The court dismissed all ERISA claims and alle- gations of consumer fraud against Augsburg Fortress and the ELCA. However, without making judg- ment on the merits, the judge let stand state law allegations involving breach of contract and other matters against the ELCA and Augsburg Fortress. Among those claims, the plaintiffs contend the ELCA is an “alter ego” of Augsburg Fortress. The judge said the plaintiffs “asserted sufficient factual allegations” to pursue the claim. “The court’s ruling is consistent with the statutory ‘church plan’ defini- tion and, we believe, correctly reflects the intent of Congress when it revised that definition in 1980,” said Ruth S. Marcott, an attorney representing the ELCA. “The ruling is also consis- tent with 30 years of federal agency determinations that church-affiliated employers, like a publishing agency that is affiliated with a denomination, can maintain a church plan.” Augsburg Fortress, based in Min- neapolis, is a separately incorpo-

By the staff of The Lutheran, ELCA News Service and Religion News Service

Judge dismisses portion of Augsburg Fortress lawsuit

ine months after an April 2010 lawsuit was filed by four plain- tiffs contesting Augsburg For-

rated ministry of the ELCA, which is headquartered in Chicago. The ELCA was also named as a defendant. In a statement, the ELCA called

the ruling “preliminary,” saying it was “likely the first of other proce- dural matters still to be decided as the case continues forward.” The churchwide organization and Augs- burg Fortress “continue to defend against the claims in the lawsuit,” the statement continued. “The ELCA churchwide orga- nization remains concerned for the well-being of the Augsburg For- tress employees and retirees who were affected by the termination of the defined benefit plan,” the state- ment said. “The church continues to hold [them] in prayer.” In 2005, Augsburg Fortress’ board of trustees froze the defined benefit plan and began offering employees a 403(b) defined con- tribution plan. The publisher termi- nated its defined benefit plan Dec. 31, 2009. At the time, Augsburg Fortress CEO and President Beth A. Lewis said the defined benefit plan had been underfunded for about nine years.

The plaintiffs assert that about 500 people were affected by the termination of the pension plan. Assets were distributed to partici- pants based in part on how long employees had worked at the company.

ELCA News Service For the record

As of Feb. 1, the ELCA Office of the Secretary reported that 716 congre- gations have taken a total of 759 first votes to leave the ELCA. Of those 759 first votes, 532 passed and 227 failed. It said that 395 second votes have been taken, a requirement to cut ties with the denomination. Of those, 375 second votes passed and 20 failed. The votes came in reaction to the 2009 Churchwide Assembly’s actions on sexuality.

Britain bans Fla. pastor A Florida pastor who threatened to burn a pile of Korans on the anniver- sary of the 9/11 attacks has been offi- cially banned from Britain for preach- ing religious extremism. Terry Jones, who had been invited to address an anti-Islam demonstration in February, called the decision “very unfair.” Brit- ain’s Home Office said, “Numerous comments made by Pastor Jones are evidence of his unacceptable behav- ior. Coming to the U.K. is a privilege, not a right, and we are not willing to allow entry to those whose presence is not conducive to the public good.”

It only takes a ‘buck’ This Lent and Easter, ELCA World Hunger invites congregations to hold a “Buck-a-Chick” sale. For $1 mem- bers can purchase and decorate a paper chick for themselves or in honor of a friend or loved one. This gift will help World Hunger provide a family in need with a chick that will eventu- ally produce eggs to eat and sell. Get the coloring page at hunger/lent. Send donations (with “Buck-a-Chick” in the memo line) to ELCA Good Gifts, 39488 Treasury Center, Chicago, IL 60694-9400.

Advice for the president Jill A. Schumann, president and CEO of Lutheran Services in America, is among 25 nonprofit and business

8 The Lutheran •

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