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

Houston, Texas Staff Reports

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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