Tag Archives: same-sex marriage

How the Supreme Court Decision on Same-sex Marriage Applies in the Workplace, Part 2: Family and Medical Leave Act

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Another consequence of the decision legalizing same-sex marriage is that same-sex spouses are eligible for FMLA leave to take care of a spouse with a serious health condition. This raises some difficult practical questions, such as how FMLA leave works for same-sex couples that include: 

Can an employer ask for a marriage certificate when an employee asks for leave to take care of a same-sex spouse? 

The answer to this question is probably yes. The U.S. Department of Labor states that an employer can ask for a verification of marriage so long as they don’t discriminate in the requirement. An employee with a newly legally recognized same-sex marriage may feel inconvenienced that they have to prove their marital status to get FMLA leave. They might also feel they are being discriminated against because heterosexual individuals aren’t asked to provide a marriage certificate when they take FMLA leave to take care of their spouse. However, if an employer requires heterosexual couples to verify marriage through a producing a marriage certificate for insurance purposes, it could make sense that a heterosexual person is not asked to produce a marriage certificate to take family leave, if they have already done so for insurance purposes. 

Taking family leave can be stressful, and I am sure there are some human-resources officials who hold anti-LGBT attitudes. But even if an employer doesn’t request a marriage certificate for heterosexual couples to verify FMLA leave, employees should assume that the request is made in good faith. Courts favor individuals who comply with the requests of their employers, even if those requests aren’t made within the letter of the law. 

In states where marriage was same sex marriage was legalized by Obergefell, when do FMLA protections start?

In states like Nebraska, where the Obergefell decision legalized same-sex marriage, an interesting question is whether an employer is required to retroactively count family leave as FMLA if the leave started before the marriage was formally legalized in that state but the individual’s same-sex marriage was recognized in another state. This is a pertinent issue in Nebraska, since many same sex-couples were married in nearby Iowa, which has recognized same-sex marriage since 2009. The U.S. Department of Labor would likely argue that if you married your same-sex partner in Iowa that you would have had FMLA protections in Nebraska to take care of your spouse even if Nebraska didn’t recognized same marriage until June 26, 2015. But courts may not give much weight to the opinion of the U.S. Department of Labor. This issue is a legal toss-up. The best thing that same-sex couples can do to protect their rights to FMLA leave is to not give their employer any valid excuses for terminating them for taking FMLA leave. 

Please click here to read part one of this series. Feel free to contact our office if you have questions about the issues raised in these two posts.

Why Overturning DOMA Is a Win for Employee Rights

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Rehm, from Rehm, Bennett & Moore.

Regardless of your opinion on the issue of gay rights, Wednesday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning the Defense of Marriage Act is a win for workplace fairness.

The constitutional authorization for most federal fair-employment laws is based on the guarantees of equal protection of the law based on the Fifth and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution and the right of Congress to regulate interstate commerce clause. In his opinion overturning DOMA, Justice Anthony Kennedy found that DOMA violated the Fifth and 14th Amendment rights of gays and lesbians. He reaffirmed the role of the Fifth and 14th Amendments in preventing discrimination.

Kennedy’s opinion is important because in last summer’s blockbuster Supreme Court decision upholding the Affordable Care Act, Chief Justice John Roberts undercut the interstate commerce clause as a justification for passing federal legislation. Conceivably, corporate opponents of workplace fairness laws could point to Roberts’ decision in the Affordable Care Act as a way to argue that federal workplace fairness laws are unconstitutional. However Wednesday’s decision in the DOMA case means that workplace fairness laws still have clear and strong constitutional support.

The DOMA decision is a bright spot in a Supreme Court session that has otherwise been pretty bleak for employees. My opinion is that as a result of recent Supreme Court decisions, more and more fair-employment cases will be brought in state court. The decision in DOMA is still relevant to state law discrimination and retaliation claims. Most states have equal protection clauses in their state constitutions. The reasoning supporting the DOMA decision supports state fair-employment statutes. I believe this is true even for fair employment claims based on retaliation. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg pointed out in her dissent in Nassar, retaliation is a form of discrimination. In other words, if you have been fired in retaliation for filing a workers’ compensation claim, your constitutional rights have been violated. If the Supreme Court had decided DOMA differently, employees would have a weaker argument that a retaliatory discharge violated their equal protection rights.

Your Social Security Benefits After The Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA) Decision

Today’s post comes from guest author Barbara Tilker, from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

Nearly two months after the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the Social Security Administration has announced that it will start to pay benefits to some individuals in same-sex marriages. In order to be eligible for benefits, these individuals must meet the same criteria as individuals in opposite-sex marriages, in addition to several other requirements.

Only applications for spousal benefits are being approved right now. Spousal benefits are payable to a spouse who either 1) did not work enough to be entitled to Social Security benefits or 2) worked enough to be entitled to Social Security benefits but would be entitled to a larger benefit on their spouse’s earnings record.  This is generally the case when one spouse earned significantly more than the other spouse over the course of their working lives. The individual on whose earnings record the claim is made (the number holder, in SSA’s terms) must also be entitled to old-age or disability benefits from Social Security. In order to receive spousal benefits, you must be at least age 62 and have been married to the number holder for at least one year.

The individual applying for benefits (the claimant, in SSA’s terms) must show that he or she was married to the number holder in a state that permits same-sex marriage and that the number holder is living in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage either 1) when the application for benefits is filed or 2) while the application is pending a final determination. It does not matter what state the claimant lives in. What matters for SSA’s purposes is the state the number holder lives in. This only matters when spouses live in different states.

Below is a chart from SSA that shows which states recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states, and when those states permitted same-sex marriages.  If a state is not listed, it does not recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states or permit same-sex marriages to be performed.

Before filing a claim for benefits or moving to a different state, you should consult with an experienced attorney or with the Social Security Administration to determine your eligibility for benefits.  As SSA continues to pay benefits to more individuals in connection with the Supreme Court’s decision, we will provide updated information regarding who may be eligible for these benefits.

State

Date Same-Sex Marriages from Any Other State Was Recognized

Date Same-Sex Marriages Were Permitted in the State

California June 17, 2008 – November 4, 2008

June 26, 2013 – present

June 17, 2008 – November 4, 2008

June 26, 2013 – present

Connecticut November 12, 2008 November 12, 2008
Delaware July 1, 2013 July 1, 2013
Iowa April 30, 2009 April 20, 2009
Maine December 29, 2012 December 29, 2012
Maryland February 23, 2010 January 1, 2013
Massachusetts May 17, 2004 May 17, 2004
Minnesota August 1, 2013 August 1, 2013
New Hampshire January 1, 2010 January 1, 2010
New York February 1, 2008 July 24, 2011
Rhode Island May 14, 2012 August 1, 2013
Vermont September 1, 2009 September 1, 2009
Washington December 6, 2012 December 6, 2012
Washington, DC July 7, 2009 March 9, 2010