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Her Guaranteed Pension Was Slashed. Now, Mary Hartshorne Is Fighting Back.

AARP Foundation is representing the St. Clare’s pensioners in a lawsuit that’s garnered national attention.

spinner image Mary Hartshorne

Mary Hartshorne’s retirement hasn’t turned out the way she planned.

Mary dedicated 28 years to St. Clare’s Hospital of Schenectady, New York, where she worked in the radiology department. She had planned to retire on the pension she’d been promised for decades.

But five years ago, the Catholic hospital informed more than 1,100 former employees that those pensions would be reduced or, worse, would not be coming at all. A lawsuit brought by AARP Foundation and several New York attorneys alleges that even after St. Clare’s closed in 2008 and received $28.5 million from the state as a pension fund bailout, officials continued to mismanage the retirement plan and mislead pensioners.

Feeling betrayed — and outraged — Mary, 73, became the face of the St. Clare’s Pension Recovery Alliance, a group fighting to reclaim the pensions they are owed. “I’m the second oldest of a big family, so being the leader, being the one that takes charge, that comes naturally,” says Mary.

As one of 10 children raised in a working-class Catholic household, Mary knew there would be no money for college. Nearby St. Clare’s had a radiology training program, which seemed like Mary’s best option. “It wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to be a teacher. That was my plan, but the Lord had a different one.”

Working at a hospital for the underserved and underinsured wasn’t without sacrifice. Salary increases were often forgone; they were offered, but staff were told that raises for them might mean layoffs for someone else. “There’s no way we wanted that to happen, so we’d say, OK, we don’t have to have raises this year.’ We were told, ‘Don’t worry because we have that pension for you. That’s guaranteed.’” Mary trusted their word. She knew the church wouldn’t let her down.

That family-like environment and the connection to the church she grew up in made it all the more painful when Mary received a letter telling her that her pension had been reduced, and that in three weeks’ time she would begin receiving far less than she had been promised. “It was awful. I thought they had made an error.”

But it wasn’t an error. As a Catholic-run hospital, St. Clare’s was able to use its relationship with the diocese to take advantage of the church exemption to federal laws that safeguard pensions. When reality sank in, Mary says, “we realized that we had to get into a much more powerful position.” The pensioners began a search for legal representation, and in September 2019, with the help of several local attorneys and AARP Foundation, they filed suit against multiple defendants, including the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany.

Fighting For You in the Courts

AARP Foundation Litigation ensures that older adults have a voice and proper representation in the legal system.



“We didn’t know we’d have AARP Foundation representing us,” says Mary. “I can never thank them enough. They’ve gone above and beyond. They knew all the avenues they could explore. They made us feel like we matter.”

The case has drawn national attention from the beginning, and not just from the press. The New York State Attorney General’s office investigated the situation alongside AARP Foundation, bringing its own lawsuit last summer. Earlier this year, the federal government got involved, with the U.S. Government Accountability Office opening an investigation into church-affiliated pension plans. “I never thought it was going to balloon like this,” Mary says.

In the latest development, the Diocese chose not to oppose a motion to lift an automatic stay placed on the case when the Diocese filed for bankruptcy in March 2023. In an interview with a local news channel, Mary said, “I’m thrilled that, finally, after five years, they’re agreeing to something moving forward, instead of delay, delay, delay.” The bankruptcy court lifted the stay in June, sending the case back to state court.

For those who had planned their futures around the pension, the loss of it has been calamitous. Mary had to sell the home where she wanted to live out her days. “My pension paid my mortgage,” she says. “I had a little house on a little lake. It was peaceful and beautiful, and I loved it. But I’m not the only one. Many, many people have had broken hearts, broken plans. It’s just devastating.”

Tireless in seeking a just outcome, she has spent countless hours on the phone and in person with attorneys and politicians, arranged meetings and Q&A sessions for the pensioners, and given dozens of interviews to local media. Standing up to the diocese was risky, but Mary is resolute in her mission. “There’s a lot to lose by sticking your neck out, but I’ve already lost my home. There’s nothing more to take.”

The support from her community keeps Mary moving forward. “Something is wrong that this happened to 1,100 of the kindest, most caring, loving people in the world. A lot of people over the past five years have come up to me and said, ‘Don’t stop doing what you’re doing. Don’t give up.’”

“It’s been a long road,” she adds, “but I don’t have any regrets.”

Learn more about AARP Foundation Litigation and its work to give older people a voice in the nation’s courts.

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Fighting For You in the Courts

AARP Foundation Litigation ensures that older adults have a voice and proper representation in the legal system.