UNITED STATES v. QUALITY STORES
In October 2001, Quality Stores -- a national company -- and its affiliates commenced bankruptcy proceedings. When laying off employees, Quality Stores issued severance pay as part of its employees’ gross income and reported the payments for federal income tax purposes as “wages” on W-2 forms. As required for “wages”, the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA) tax was paid on severance payments. FICA is a tax imposed on wages earned to fund Social Security and Medicare; both employer and employee pay part of the tax. The employee's part is withheld from his paycheck. Quality Stores contends that severance pay does not qualify as “wages”, but rather payments under a Supplemental Unemployment Benefit (SUB) plan that are not taxable under FICA. SUB is a corporate program that creates severance payments in the event of involuntary termination; SUB payments do not qualify as “wages” under FICA because they are given after termination of a job rather than for work completed.
Based on this line of reasoning, Quality Stores filed for a refund from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The IRS did not respond to Quality Stores' request for a refund, neither by allowing the claim nor denying it, and Quality Stores sued the IRS. The federal district court agreed with Quality Stores’ view on severance payments. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit affirmed the district court and held that severance pay satisfies the elements Congress set out to determine SUB payments, which therefore makes such payments exempt from FICA taxes.
Are severance payments for employees who were involuntarily terminated taxable under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act?