Bloomberg, by Greg Storh rported today that the U.S. Supreme Court decided in favor of the Obama administration in a dispute over taxes on severance compensation, overturning a lower court decision that could have forced the IRS to refund more than $1 billion.
The court said payments to laid-off workers are subject to Social Security and Medicare taxes under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act, or FICA. It was a victory for the Internal Revenue Service, which has been fighting more than 2,400 refund claims from companies and their ex-employees.
The justices’ unanimous ruling yesterday came in the case of Quality Stores Inc., once the country’s largest agricultural specialty retailer. The defunct company fired 3,100 workers when it closed its stores in 2001 and 2002, paid the taxes on their severance and then asked a bankruptcy judge to order the IRS to refund $1 million.
Writing for the court, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the payments were subject to tax. He rejected the company’s contention that what it called supplemental unemployment compensation was exempt from the FICA.
“The severance payments here were made to employees terminated against their will, were varied based on job seniority and time served and were not linked to the receipt of state unemployment benefits,” he wrote. “Under FICA’s broad definition, these severance payments constitute taxable wages.”