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California Court Recognizes Same-Sex Marriage a Week Prior to Windsor

January 22, 2016

Authors

benefitsbclp

California Court Recognizes Same-Sex Marriage a Week Prior to Windsor

January 22, 2016

by: benefitsbclp

Earlier this month, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California recognized the retroactive application of United States v. Windsor.

In Schuett v. FedEx Corporation, plaintiff and her long-time same-sex partner, Lesly Taboada-Hall were married in a civil ceremony on June 19, 2013. Taboada-Hall, a fully-vested participant in the FedEx Pension Plan, passed away the following day from cancer. As of the date of Taboada-Hall’s death, marriage licenses for same-sex couples were not available in California due to enforcement of Proposition 8, a voter-enacted ban on same-sex marriage. Six days later, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its landmark Windsor decision declaring Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional.

Here’s where this gets interesting. On August 6, 2013, plaintiff filed a Petition to Establish the Fact, Date, and Place of Marriage, as permitted by California Health & Safety

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Supreme Court’s Same-Sex Marriage Ruling in Obergefell: Effect on Benefit Plans

July 13, 2015

Authors

Lisa Van Fleet and Serena Yee

Supreme Court’s Same-Sex Marriage Ruling in Obergefell: Effect on Benefit Plans

July 13, 2015

by: Lisa Van Fleet and Serena Yee

Grooms Wedding RingTwo years after recognizing same-sex marriages for purposes of federal law, the U.S. Supreme Court has gone a step further, requiring that all states recognize same-sex marriages as valid if they were valid in the jurisdiction where they were performed.  Further, states are required to license same-sex marriages no differently than opposite sex marriages.  In short, the Supreme Court struck down existing state bans on same-sex marriage.

Effect on 401(k) Plans and Other Qualified Plans: 401(k) and other qualified retirement plans are not impacted by Obergefell, since the previous Windsor decision, along with guidance issued by the IRS following Windsor, already required qualified retirement plans to recognize same-sex spouses.  Following Windsor, same-sex marriages were to be treated no differently than opposite-sex marriages for all purposes, including automatic survivor benefits (spousal annuities),

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After Obergefell, Is it “Get Married Or Else”?

July 1, 2015

Authors

Chris Rylands and Denise Erwin

After Obergefell, Is it “Get Married Or Else”?

July 1, 2015

by: Chris Rylands and Denise Erwin

Gavel and RingsAs has now been widely reported, the Supreme Court ruled on June 26 (the second anniversary of the Windsor decision) that same-sex couples have a right to marry in any part of the United States. Despite being hailed as a victory for marriage equality, as this New York Times article points out, it may not be such happy news for currently unwed domestic partners. Specifically, there is a concern, as the article points out, that employers who previously extended coverage to domestic partners out of a sense of equity may now decide not to since both opposite-sex and same-sex couples can now marry.

As the article mentions, there was a concern at one time that domestic partnership rules would be used by some employees to cover individuals with whom they

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FMLA Rules for Couples: So, Who’s Not Covered?

March 27, 2015

Authors

Christy Phanthavong and Chris Rylands

FMLA Rules for Couples: So, Who’s Not Covered?

March 27, 2015

by: Christy Phanthavong and Chris Rylands

Couple with DogThe U.S. Department of Labor’s issuance of a final rule amending the definition of “spouse” in the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”) regulations has inspired us to prepare a new series of FMLA-related blog posts on the subject of “FMLA Rules for Couples.”

We start our discussion by asking what may not seem like the obvious question in light of the new rule: Which couples do not have FMLA rights under the new definition of spouse?

The answer is relatively straight-forward: Couples who are not legally married under U.S. laws, or whose lawful marriage outside the U.S. could not have been entered into in at least one U.S. state, are not considered “spouses” for purposes of the FMLA.

Thus, while opposite-sex couples in lawful marriages, same-sex couples

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Second Circuit Affirms that Health Plan’s Same-Sex Spouse Exclusion Does not Violate ERISA

January 27, 2015

Authors

Denise Erwin

Second Circuit Affirms that Health Plan’s Same-Sex Spouse Exclusion Does not Violate ERISA

January 27, 2015

by: Denise Erwin

On December 23, 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the District Court’s dismissal of plaintiffs’ claims alleging that the same-sex spouse exclusion in the employer’s self-insured medical plan violated Section 510 of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974, as amended (“ERISA”) and also dismissed plaintiffs’ breach of fiduciary duty claim under Section 404 of ERISA.

As you may recall, the underlying case, Roe v Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield, decided by the District Court of the Southern District of New York, involved an employee of St. Joseph’s Medical Center who tried to add her same-sex spouse as a covered dependent under the employer’s self-insured health plan administered by Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield. The plan at issue did not define “spouse” but it did expressly exclude same-sex spouses and domestic partners. The District Court granted defendants’ motion to dismiss the ERISA

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Relationship Talk: Same-Sex Couples May Marry in Missouri

November 6, 2014

Authors

Lisa Van Fleet

Relationship Talk: Same-Sex Couples May Marry in Missouri

November 6, 2014

by: Lisa Van Fleet

I have a friend who has lived in St. Louis with his same-sex partner for years. About a year ago, we were discussing same-sex marriage rights and my friend expressed his hope that Missouri would NOT join the other states that permit same sex couples to marry because he was not sure he wanted to commit to his partner. Well, my friend, you now face the same dilemma as commitment-phobic partners in opposite-sex couples, and can no longer blame the law for your failure to commit.

Yesterday, a St. Louis Circuit Court judge ruled that Missouri’s ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional and “in violation of the Equal Protection Clause and Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.” It was just a month ago that a Missouri court held that same sex marriages performed in other states would be recognized in Missouri. That ruling required

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HHS Guidance Recognizes HIPAA Privacy Rights of Same-Sex Spouses and Dependents

October 10, 2014

Authors

Denise Erwin

HHS Guidance Recognizes HIPAA Privacy Rights of Same-Sex Spouses and Dependents

October 10, 2014

by: Denise Erwin

On September 17th, the Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights (“HHS”) issued guidance to assist covered entities and business associates in complying with the privacy requirements under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (“HIPAA”) following the decision issued by the Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor.  The guidance clarifies that same-sex spouses, determined under the “state of celebration rule,” must be afforded the same privacy rights as opposite-sex spouses.

The guidance from HHS clarifies that for purposes of the HIPAA privacy rules, the term “spouse” includes individuals who are in a legally valid same-sex marriage sanctioned by a state, territory or foreign jurisdiction (as long as a U.S. jurisdiction would also recognize the marriage) whether or not they live or receive services in a jurisdiction that recognizes their marriage.  Similarly, the guidance provides that the term “marriage” includes

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Same-Sex Marriages Performed in Other States Recognized in Missouri

October 3, 2014

Authors

Lisa Van Fleet

Same-Sex Marriages Performed in Other States Recognized in Missouri

October 3, 2014

by: Lisa Van Fleet

Twenty states and counting. Same-sex marriages are now recognized in 20 states and the District of Columbia. The most recent addition to this growing group is the state of Missouri.

Pursuant to a ruling issued earlier today by Jackson County Circuit, Judge J. Dale Youngs, the state of Missouri must recognize the marriages of same sex couples legally performed in other states.

The ruling was made in a lawsuit filed by 10 same-sex couples who were legally married in other states. The couples argued that Missouri’s refusal to recognized their marriage violated their equal protection and due process rights. Judge Youngs agreed that the ban served no legitimate government interest and Missouri must recognize same-sex marriages in the same manner that it recognizes the marriage of opposite-sex couples legally married in other states.

The ruling only requires that Missouri recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in other states. It does not

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New Case Tests the Retroactive Reach of Windsor

July 9, 2014

Authors

benefitsbclp

New Case Tests the Retroactive Reach of Windsor

July 9, 2014

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

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DOL Proposes to Adopt State of Celebration Rule to Determine FMLA Rights of Employees in Same-Sex Marriages

June 23, 2014

Authors

benefitsbclp

DOL Proposes to Adopt State of Celebration Rule to Determine FMLA Rights of Employees in Same-Sex Marriages

June 23, 2014

by: benefitsbclp

Presently, the federal government uses different rules for different purposes when determining whether a same sex marriage will be recognized. The IRS and the majority of other government agencies use the state of celebration rule for purposes of determining whether a same sex marriages will be recognized.   Under this rule, a same sex marriage is recognized so long as it was recognized in the state in which is was performed.  However, the DOL uses the state of residence rule for Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) purposes. Under this rule, a same sex marriage is recognized only if it is recognized in the state in which the couple resides.  The resulting inconsistency is confusing and complicates administration of employee benefits.

Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez announced on Friday that the Department of Labor (DOL) is proposing a rule to revise the definition of spouse under the

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