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Houston city workers file suit seeking equal benefits for same-sex spouses

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Lambda Legal on Thursday filed a federal lawsuit against Houston Mayor Annise Parker and the city of Houston seeking to preserve spousal benefits, including health insurance, covering the same-sex spouses of city employees.

Houston, Texas

Houston, Texas

The lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas on behalf three Houston city employees legally married to same-sex spouses, follows notification that employees received recently that the City, one month after extending the employee coverage for their spouses, was being forced to withdraw these benefits and cancel the coverage.

On Nov. 20, Parker announced that all legally-married city employees, including those who married same-sex partners in jurisdictions where such marriages are legal, would be eligible to enroll for spousal benefits, including health insurance coverage, under the city’s employee benefits health plan.

The three plaintiffs named in Lambda Legal’s lawsuit enrolled their spouses as soon as they received notification of the policy change.

Shortly thereafter, however, two Houston residents sued the mayor and the city in Family Law Court, claiming the benefits were illegal and, without giving the mayor or the city notice, secured a temporary restraining order blocking extension of the benefits.

The City is defending against the challenge to the Mayor’s decision to ensure equal employee benefits for all workers.

“City employees who are married to same-sex spouses are doing the same work as coworkers who are married to different-sex spouses—at the end of the day this case is about equal pay for equal work. These employees, some who have worked for the city for many years, acted in good faith when notified the city was extending health coverage benefits to their legal spouses,” said Kenneth Upton, Senior Counsel in Lambda Legal’s South Central Regional Office in Dallas.

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“They enrolled for spousal benefits, including health insurance, paid the premiums, scheduled doctor visits and underwent treatments that will require ongoing care. Now, suddenly, the rug is pulled out from under them,” said Upton.

Plaintiffs in the suit are Noel Freeman, an administrative coordinator with the City of Houston Public Works; Yadira Estrada, a City of Houston police officer; and Ron Reeser, a systems administrator for the City.

“By refusing to recognize the legal marriage of same-sex couples for the purpose of providing employment benefits, the City deprives some Houston families of a critical safety net and financial security,” Upton added, in a statement issued by Lambda Legal.

“By stripping legally married gay and lesbian city employees of spousal benefits, including health insurance coverage, the city not only inflicts severe hardship, but sends a signal that their families are less worthy than those of their coworkers. This the Constitutional does not allow,” he said.

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17 more reader comments:

  1. Good luck Houston. For once I can say we here in Greater Nebraska are leading somebody in the march to progress. Last November we got the City Council of Grand Island, NE to pass an ordinance guaranteeing protection from discrimination for City employees. If we can do it, YOU SURELY CAN!

    Posted on Friday, December 27, 2013 at 2:36am
  2. Good Luck to Houston , TX !

    Posted on Friday, December 27, 2013 at 2:36am
  3. Posted on Friday, December 27, 2013 at 2:38am
  4. Every gay couple in every state that is being denied the civil constitutional right of civil marriage should sue, sue, sue, sue, sue.

    Posted on Friday, December 27, 2013 at 2:39am
  5. We’re not backing down. Gong back into the closet is not an option.

    Posted on Friday, December 27, 2013 at 2:40am
  6. My oldest friend married his partner of 30 years when NY made it legal. My mother asked why? Simple answer - because they can.

    Replied on Friday, December 27, 2013 at 4:06am
  7. Keep up the fight, until being gay is a non-issue.

    Posted on Friday, December 27, 2013 at 3:34am
  8. The Supreme Court knew this would happen when they ruled on Prop 8 and DOMA. They were smart. Rather than doing it all at once and potentially inciting riot, it’s happening one by one. It is only a matter of time.

    Posted on Friday, December 27, 2013 at 3:52am
  9. My parter and I of 40 years will marry next year in Maryland where we spent 25 years.

    Posted on Friday, December 27, 2013 at 4:10am
  10. Good luck, vote for Wendy and it will be easier!

    Posted on Friday, December 27, 2013 at 6:57am
  11. I’m hoping Texas becomes legal for same sex marriage! Everyone thinks it will be last

    Posted on Friday, December 27, 2013 at 7:16am
  12. i,m in houston and i,m gay and i say hell to the yes!

    Posted on Friday, December 27, 2013 at 7:24am
  13. Dont back down ,

    Posted on Friday, December 27, 2013 at 11:26am
  14. It’s time to GET WITH IT!

    Posted on Friday, December 27, 2013 at 11:44am
  15. Way to go. Every gay couple in every state and country in the world deserves the civil constitutional right of civil marriage and all that goes with it for couples.!!!! smile

    Posted on Friday, December 27, 2013 at 4:58pm
  16. You got to Strike…for your right…to get Married!

    Posted on Friday, December 27, 2013 at 7:39pm
  17. Posted on Friday, December 27, 2013 at 8:19pm