DOMA: Class-action lawsuit against Catholic hospital and Blue Cross Blue Shield challenges law; alleges ERISA violations
June 20, 2012
By Scottie Thomaston
A new class-action lawsuit has been filed in district court in the Southern District of New York challenging the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional and also alleging violations of ERISA (the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, providing employment benefit plans). A judge in the Southern District of New York just struck down DOMA as unconstitutional in another case, Windsor v. OPM, and an appeal has been filed by the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group and by the Justice Department, to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. There is another challenge to DOMA under the Second Circuit’s jurisdiction, Pedersen v. OPM. That case has been fully briefed and argued and is awaiting a decision.
In this latest lawsuit, a lesbian employee is suing a Catholic hospital for its denial of spousal health benefits. This is the first lawsuit to challenge a Catholic hospital for denial of coverage under DOMA. The suit is also brought on behalf of all same-sex couples who are denied benefits under Blue Cross Blue Shield:
Plaintiffs brings this as a class action on behalf of all: (a) all persons who are participants in or beneficiaries of a BCBS insurance plan, and who were or might be denied medical benefits coverage as a result of an employer’s policy that excludes coverage for same sex spouses; and (b) all participants and beneficiaries of the Plan who were denied medical benefits coverage as a result of St. Joseph’s policy excluding coverage for same-sex spouses.
The complaint does not discuss the level of scrutiny that should be applied to laws like DOMA that are targeted at gays and lesbians as a class, but instead lists the recent decisions striking the law down as unconstitutional under equal protection principles. The complaint says:
Because DOMA unlawfully discriminates against same-sex spouses, it is unconstitutional and therefore should not be used as a basis to deny Plaintiffs their right to medical benefits under the Plan.
The complaint asks for the court to strike down the law as unconstitutional, or alternatively, allow the couples to receive their benefits despite DOMA.