July 9, 2014
Authored by: benefitsbclp
Following a spate of district court cases in response to United States v. Windsor, 133 S. Ct. 2675 (2013), some same-sex surviving spouses are asking retirement plan sponsors to review previously denied death benefit claims. Among them has emerged Passaro v. Bayer Corp. Pension Plan in the United States District Court in Connecticut, which attempts to reach into the past to claim Qualified Preretirement Survivor Annuity (“QPSA”) benefits post-marriage, but pre-Windsor. The key issue in this case will be the retroactive application of Windsor to qualified retirement plans.
In the complaint, the plaintiff alleges that the pension plan denied him benefits of a QPSA in violation of the terms of the plan and of governing federal law. The state of Connecticut recognized same-sex marriages beginning November 12, 2008, and the plaintiff was married in the state later that month. The spouse vested under the plan died in January 2009. When the plaintiff requested benefits under the plan, the plan sponsor denied the request citing section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”). On June 26, 2013 the Supreme Court declared section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional in Windsor, and the plaintiff unsuccessfully appealed the denial of plan benefits in early 2014. The plaintiff then filed his complaint in May 2014.
The question here is whether the Court’s decision in Windsor can have a retroactive effect to require payment of a QPSA to a surviving spouse when the pensioner died before the opinion was issued. The