Showing posts with label Gay Married Couple. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gay Married Couple. Show all posts

December 2, 2016

Walmart Settled Lawsuit That Denied Health Insurance to Same Sex Couples


 We married because we are a family. Respect us!


Walmart announced on Friday that it had settled a lawsuit that accused the company of discriminating against gay and lesbian employees when it denied health insurance benefits to same-sex spouses.

Under the deal, Walmart will set aside $7.5 million, mostly to compensate employees affected by the denial of spousal benefits during the three years before Jan. 1, 2014, when the company changed its policy. More than 1,000 people may be eligible.

But the agreement also signals how legal doctrine on discrimination against gays and lesbians is rapidly changing, making it increasingly likely to be considered a form of sex discrimination. Such a doctrine would generally make it easier for gay and lesbian plaintiffs to prevail in court, as federal civil rights laws prohibit sex discrimination.

“We’re happy both sides could come together to reach a resolution,” Sally Welborn, a Walmart senior vice president, said in a statement. “We will continue to not distinguish between same- and opposite-sex spouses when it comes to the benefits we offer under our health insurance plan.”

Since the late 1980s, the primary way for plaintiffs to fight discrimination based on their sexual orientation has been to argue that an employer treated them unfairly because they did not conform to gender stereotypes.

So, for example, a gay plaintiff might win in court by arguing that he was denied a promotion because he did not appear sufficiently masculine. But he was unlikely to win by arguing that he had been denied the promotion because he was gay or in a same-sex relationship. This frequently limited plaintiffs’ ability to prevail.

In recent years, however, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, along with some federal courts, have found that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is “inherently” sex discrimination, as the commission wrote late year, and therefore outlawed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The commission’s stance could change under President-elect Donald J. Trump, who will nominate new commissioners to the agency over time. But by then there could be an emerging consensus in the federal courts, making a reversal less relevant.

The Walmart settlement, pending preliminary approval by the judge in the case, William G. Young of the United States District Court for the District of Massachusetts, appears to reflect the growing acceptance of the commission’s analysis by private sector employers.

In their motion for preliminary approval of the settlement, lawyers for the lead plaintiff, Jacqueline Cote, argued that Walmart had discriminated against Ms. Cote because she was married to a woman. They also made the more traditional argument that the company had discriminated against Ms. Cote because she did not conform to the stereotype that women must marry only men.

Although Walmart did not endorse any particular legal theory as part of the settlement, it also did not move to dismiss the case on grounds that the arguments were flawed.

“Some employers, as well as some employee groups, will be wondering if this reflects Walmart’s assessment of where courts might be moving,” said Helen Norton, a professor at the University of Colorado Law School.

Ms. Cote began working as an associate at Walmart in Maine in 1999 and worked continuously at the company there and in Massachusetts through 2015. In 2004, she married Diana Smithson, another Walmart associate, in Massachusetts, where she lived.

In 2008, Ms. Smithson left the company to become the primary caregiver for Ms. Cote’s mother. Around that time, Ms. Cote began trying to enroll Ms. Smithson in Walmart’s spousal health insurance plan. The company repeatedly blocked her from signing up because of its policy of denying health insurance benefits to same-sex spouses.

In 2012 Ms. Smithson was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and the couple ran up some $150,000 in uninsured medical expenses over the next few years.

Under the deal, Walmart will reimburse current or former employees affected by its previous policy for the full out-of-pocket cost of their spouse’s health care from Jan. 1, 2011, to Dec. 31, 2013, if they submit documentation of the costs incurred. The company will also pay 250 percent of out-of-pocket costs for those who submit documentation for expenses of $60,000 or more in health care expenses for their spouse.

The settlement identifies roughly 1,100 people who may be eligible for compensation, though it acknowledges that the number could be higher.

The company also committed to treating same-sex couples and heterosexual couples equally when administering its health benefits. Walmart made same-sex spouses eligible for health benefits in 2014, but even after this it claimed it had no legal obligation to do so. Ms. Cote’s lawyers argued in their complaint that this left same-sex couples in a more precarious financial situation, since Walmart could easily rescind the coverage.

“We are glad that as part of the settlement Walmart will continue to provide the same health insurance benefits regardless of the gender of the associate’s spouse,” Peter Romer-Friedman, one of Ms. Cote’s lawyers, said in a statement.

A judge’s preliminary approval in this sort of settlement typically happens within a matter of weeks.

The broader legal landscape suggests a coming shift in federal courts’ thinking on whether discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation violates existing civil rights law.

While much of the recent litigation in this area has focused on employment-related issues, plaintiffs may successfully challenge similar discrimination in the realms of housing and lending, where federal law also prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. At least one plaintiff has brought such a complaint.

Cases litigating the question of whether sexual orientation discrimination is inherently sex discrimination are pending in multiple federal appeals courts, and Attorney General Loretta Lynch told BuzzFeed this spring that the Justice Department was “looking” at whether to adopt the new position. (The department declined to comment on when it would reach a conclusion.) The issue could come before the Supreme Court in the next few years.

One prominent case had a rehearing last month before the full United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit in Chicago, after a three-judge panel from the court had rejected the new discrimination doctrine. At the rehearing, the judges appeared sympathetic to overturning the court’s previous position.

“The trend lines are very positive,” said P. David Lopez, general counsel of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. “The courts have really drilled down and started to re-examine whether prior precedent makes sense.”

He added: “Walmart is the latest data point in what we’ve seen is a real fundamental shift.”


NOAM SCHEIBER

February 9, 2014

Federal Legal Benefits to All Gay Married Couples in All States and Jurisdictions



 
The U.S. government will recognize same-sex marriages as equal to traditional marriages in all federal legal matters, including bankruptcies, prison visits and survivor benefits, Attorney General Eric Holder announced Saturday.
The expansion of such federal recognition will include 34 states where same-sex marriage isn’t legal, but the new federal benefits being extended to those states will apply only where the U.S. government has jurisdiction, Holder said.

For example, a same-sex couple legally married in Massachusetts can now have their federal bankruptcy proceeding recognized in Alabama, even though it doesn't allow same-sex marriages. In the past, the U.S. government could challenge the couple’s joint bankruptcy because Alabama doesn't recognize same-sex marriage.

Holder’s announcement was revealed in an advance copy of a speech he will deliver at the Human Rights Campaign’s New York City gala this weekend.
Holder plans to announce that the Justice Department will issue a memo Monday that recognizes same-sex marriages “to the greatest extent possible under the law."

The move affects how millions of Americans interact with their federal government, including bankruptcy cases, prison visitation rights, survivor benefits for police officers and firefighters killed on the job, and the legal right to refuse to testify to incriminate a spouse.
The Human Rights Campaign, an advocate of gay rights, lauded Holder for his support of same sex marriage in a recent speech to the Swedish parliament.
In an excerpt of his speech provided in advance, Holder compared his work for the gay rights cause to the 1960s civil rights struggle and then- Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy’s support for equality.

"This means that, in every courthouse, in every proceeding, and in every place where a member of the Department of Justice stands on behalf of the United States -- they will strive to ensure that same-sex marriages receive the same privileges, protections and rights as opposite-sex marriages under federal law," Holder said of his initiative.
Under the new policy, the Justice Department will recognize that same-sex spouses of individuals involved in civil and criminal cases should have the same legal rights as all other married couples -- including the right to decline to give testimony that might incriminate their spouses.
Also, the government won’t contest same-sex married couples their rights in states where previously prosecutors could argue that the marriage is not recognized in the state where the couple lives, Holder said.

Couples in same-sex marriages will be allowed to file for bankruptcy as a couple. This ensures alimony and domestic support debts aren't discharged in bankruptcy cases. Federal inmates with same-sex spouses will now have full visitation, compassionate release and other benefits.
The Justice Department's policy change will extend benefits to same-sex couples who benefit from federal programs such as the Sept. 11 Victim Compensation Fund, Radiation Exposure Compensation program and to the families of police officers and firefighters who receive benefits from the Public Safety Officers’ Benefits Program.

"Just like during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, the stakes involved in this generation's struggle for LGBT equality could not be higher," Holder said. "As attorney general, I will not let this Department be simply a bystander during this important moment in history."
In a statement, Human Rights Campaign President Chad Griffin said that "this landmark announcement will change the lives of countless committed gay and lesbian couples for the better.
"While the immediate effect of these policy decisions is that all married gay couples will be treated equally under the law, the long-term effects are more profound. Today, our nation moves closer toward its ideals of equality and fairness for all,” Griffin said.

CNN’s Michael Martinez contributed to this report.
CNN

March 6, 2013

Chicago Mayor Urges Couples to get Married



Rahm_Emanuel2C_official_photo_portrait_color
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. - PHOTO: Provided
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel on March 4 sent a letter to his network of supporters urging them to contact their Illinois state representative to tell the lawmaker to support the marriage bill now pending in the Illinois House.
Emanuel, who worked for both presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama and served in the U.S. House, wrote:
Dear Marriage Supporter:


Here in Illinois, we’ve always taken the lead. 

In 2011, it was supporters like you who led the charge in urging our  General Assembly to extend basic rights to same-sex couples by passing  civil unions. Because as our nation has struggled to ensure equality for all, it’s Illinoisans who have stood at the forefront.


Now, two years later, as support for the freedom to marry escalates to record-levels around the country, Illinois can take the lead once again  by securing marriage for all loving couples in our state—as soon as this week.


The clock is ticking.
The House is poised to vote on the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act in the coming days.
And I know from talking with several of my friends in Springfield that some members of the House still  haven’t decided which way they’ll vote.


If  we’re going to pass this bill, it’s crucial that members of the House  hear from marriage supporters every single day until the freedom to  marry becomes law in Illinois. Click here to send a message to your  Representative now.


I’ve spent a lot of time in politics. And no matter where I’ve served—Congress, the Obama Administration, or as the mayor of the great city of   Chicago—one principle has always remained true: Real change happens when citizens stand strong, tell their stories, and urge their lawmakers to do what’s right.

Illinoisans want all loving couples in our state to be able to share in the freedom  to marry— the latest polls show that voters support this legislation  by a 21-point margin. It’s time for the laws of our state to reflect the values of our people. It’s time for Illinois to take the lead.
What happens in the next week is up to you. Let’s do what it takes to bring home a victory for the thousands of Illinois families  who are counting on us right now.


Onward,


Rahm Emanuel



March 24, 2012

Immigration Trying to get a Gay Married Couple (NYandSF)Deported from US

Together: Brian Willingham, left, and Alfonso Garcia pictured on their wedding day last year. Garcia, an undocumented Mexican immigrant, faces deportation despite their marriage
 (CNN) -- A federal immigration court judge in San Francisco put a deportation proceeding on hold Friday for a gay California man who is an undocumented immigrant and married to a U.S. citizen, the couple's attorney said.
Alfonso Garcia, 35, who came to the United States as a boy with his parents, and his husband, Brian Willingham, 37, are petitioning the federal immigration service for legal residency based on their marriage, said attorney Lavi Soloway.
The judge put Garcia's deportation proceeding on hold while Garcia's legal residency, or green card, application is being processed, Soloway said.
The next immigration court hearing is October 25, the attorney said.
The couple lawfully married in New York and are registered domestic partners in California living in the San Francisco Bay area, but the federal immigration court doesn't recognize gay marriage under the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between opposite sex couples, Soloway said.
The federal law is being challenged on constitutional grounds, with rulings expected this summer in federal appeals court, but the case hasn't reached the U.S. Supreme Court.
The couple is hoping the federal marriage law is nullified before the October 25 hearing, Soloway said.
"If they were an opposite-sex couple, we wouldn't have this discussion right now," Soloway said of Garcia's efforts to secure legal U.S. residency as a man married to a U.S. citizen.
"What this case is about is a Mexican man who was brought to the United States as a child and has lived here for 20 years, as has his whole family," Soloway said. "But he doesn't have lawful status."
"We have a whole campaign around this case and other cases like it," Soloway said, referring to the Stop the Deportations campaign and its website, in which gay and lesbian bi-national couples are fighting deportation, separation and exile caused by the Defense of Marriage Act and U.S. immigration law.
Garcia's undocumented status was discovered during a routine traffic stop in July, which led to a background check, the couple said. Garcia's parents are legal residents applying for U.S. citizenship, the attorney said.
Garcia and Willingham met in October 2001.
"As a gay American citizen, the federal government offers me zero, zilch, nada, null access to the federal rights that all married couples have," Willingham said on the couple's Web page. "This is not an issue of separate but equal. There are no separate federal rights for married gay couples. There are no rights at all. This is not a front of the bus, back of the bus issue. This is the federal government telling us to get the hell off of the bus."
President Barack Obama has called for a legislative repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act, and while Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee voted last year to send a repeal to the full Senate floor, the measure is seen as having no chance of getting passed by the Republican-led House.
If Garcia is deported, he will be barred from returning to the United States for 10 years, his attorney said.
"I've spent most of my life in the United States. This country is my home, and Brian is my husband. I don't want to lose everything we have built together and be told I can't come back to the U.S. for 10 years. I just want to know we can be together. I just want to know the solemn oath we made to one another will count in the eyes of the law," Garcia said in a statement.

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