U.S. Firms doubtful on spousal benefits for same-sex couples

Given the historic Supreme Court decision approving of same-sex marriages, it is yet to be determined if the United States companies must offer corporate benefits to these couples.

Under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), there is no language that would prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation, and there are plenty of large and mid-sized employers that are self-insured and governed under this Act. The ERISA allows companies to bypass differing state laws that complicate healthcare options for employees spreading out across the country. A Reuters survey of about 60 companies showed that nearly half were already providing benefits to same-sex spouses, including those based in states where such marriage was illegal.

Although, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has dealt with cases involving discrimination against gay or transgender employees, legal advocates are of the opinion that anti-discrimination rules still need to be updated to include sexual orientation as seen in Randolph McLaughlin’s, attorney at Newman Ferrera LLP words:

“We clearly need a federal law that will protect sexual orientation claims so that the federal courts won’t have to jump through hoops to do that.”

The EEOC has however, refused to comment on its future plans.

In one of the recently filed cases in U.S. District Court in Boston, plaintiff tried to win by suing Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N) for violating existing law against gender discrimination. Wal-Mart began offering health insurance to same-sex spouses last year and its policy excluded same-sex spouses from health coverage. [ID: nL2N0ZU0ZJ]. The suit seeks a nationwide class-action status. [Cote v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Case number 15-cv-12945].

The lawsuit seeks damages as well as certification to a class of current and former gay Wal-Mart employees married before Jan. 1, 2014. The damages would include the value of benefits that were denied and any out-of-pocket medical expenses.

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