RELIGION

High court struggles over hospital pension dispute

The Supreme Court is struggling over whether some of the nation's largest hospitals should be allowed to sidestep federal laws protecting pension benefits for workers.

The justices on Monday considered the case of three church-affiliated nonprofit hospital systems being sued for underfunding employee pension plans.

The hospitals — Advocate Health Care Network, Dignity Health and Saint Peter's Healthcare System — say their pensions are "church plans" exempt from the law. They want to overturn three lower court rulings against them.

Lawyers for employees say the hospitals are shirking legal safeguards that could jeopardize retirement benefits for tens of thousands of workers.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor said she believed the case could go either way. Justice Anthony Kennedy said the hospitals seemed to rely in good faith on guidance from federal agencies.