Margaret Fonberg worked as a law clerk for the federal court system in Oregon. Fonberg and her same-sex partner could not legally marry in Oregon, but instead registered as domestic partners
under the Oregon Family Fairness Act. The Act entitles registered domestic partners to all the same rights and responsibilities as married couples in the state of Oregon.
In 2009, Fonberg attempted to cover her domestic partner under her employee health plan, however the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) denied the enrollment. Fonberg
filed a lawsuit in federal district court in Oregon, claiming her government employer had discriminated against her based on her gender and sexual orientation. Though she was originally
awarded an allowance to cover health costs for her partner, that benefits award was later rescinded by the court. The Executive Committee for the Ninth Circuit Court then reviewed the
decision on appeal.
Domestic Partners Deserve Equal Protection
The Executive Committee found that Fonberg and her domestic partner had their rights violated in two main ways:
· They were discriminated against based on their sex and sexual orientation because they were treated differently from couples of the opposite sex who were able to marry and receive spousal
· They were further treated differently from same-sex couples who were allowed to marry in their respective states, which denied them of their rights to due process and equal protection
under the laws.
The due process and equal protection violation findings were based on the Supreme Court decision United States v. Windsor, which earlier this year struck down the Defense of Marriage
Act. In the end, the Committee found that Fonberg was entitled to benefits and bank pay of $6,190 plus interest.
Private Employers Beware
Though this case involved a federal employee, the same benefits rules apply for private employees, as well. All businesses should carefully review their benefits policies to ensure they
are not discriminating against employees in a domestic partnership nor violating any of their constitutional rights by denying spousal benefits to same-sex domestic partners.
This is only one of many cases and employment law developments that is expected to result from the Windsor decision. With many developments regarding same-sex couples on both the federal
and state level, companies should stay on top of changes in the laws and should adapt their policies in a timely fashion. Not doing so can result in time-consuming and costly legal action, as
well as having to pay back wages, benefits, and more.
If you are an employee and believe your rights have been violated or that you are experiencing discrimination in the workplace, it is important for you to have the representation and support
from an experienced employment law attorney in Oregon. Call HKM Employment Attorneys today to discuss your situation and a potential case.