The ELCA churchwide organization said it is "deeply concerned" about the welfare of former and current employees who are suing Augsburg Fortress, the ELCA's publishing house. Four employees filed a class-action lawsuit in April over the termination of their defined benefit compensation retirement plan, seeking to recover pension funds.
Named as defendants were Augsburg Fortress; CEO and President Beth Lewis; Chief Financial Officer John Rahja; Sandra Middendorf, vice president of human resources and organizational development; the ELCA; and current and former members of the publisher's board of trustees.
The ELCA said April 23 that Augsburg Fortress is a "separately incorporated entity apart from the ELCA churchwide organization," and the church had "no role in the creation, management or termination of that [pension] plan."
In January, Augsburg Fortress told some 500 current and former employees that the plan had been underfunded for nine years and would be terminated. It made lump sum payments to participants in March.
Lewis denied any wrongdoing, saying in an April 23 letter to ELCA leaders that the company seeks to have the lawsuit dismissed and "made the best choice out of a number of bad options."
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