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School District Violated Constitutional Rights of Gay Employees By Denying Domestic Partner Benefits, Court Rules

Gateway School District violated the U.S. Constitution and civil rights laws when it denied the same retirement benefits to its gay employees that it provided to its heterosexual workers a Pennsylvania judge state court judge has held in a major decision.
Following trial Judge Alan Hertzberg of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County (Pa), in the case of Richard L. Seech v. Gateway School District, (GD 16-005672), held that Gateway deliberately classified its employees into two groups:

 
☛Hetreosexual employees who were offered a way to qualify for spousal retiree health insurance coverage (by marrying) and

☛ Lesbian and gay employees who were deprived of any way to qualify for those benefits.

Thus, Gateway's policy, read together with Pennsylvania's former marriage law treated heterosexual employees differently than unmarried homosexual employees.
Such different treatment violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and also violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §1964.
Because employees involved in same-sex partnerships did not have the same right to marry as their heterosexual counterparts, the School District's policy had the intended effect to completely bar gays from receiving Retiree Spouse Health Insurance Benefits.
And, to add to the harm, Gateway refused to allow Richard Seech to obtain health insurance even when that impediment was removed in 2014 after Pennsylvania's prohibition on same sex marriage was declared unconstitutional, and he was then able to marry.
Because Gateway's policy predicates retiree spouse health insurance coverage on an employee's marital status at the time he or she retired, any subsequent changes in the law did not change Gateway's unconstitutional and illegal classification, the Court held.
In 2013, at the time Richard Seech retired, he could not marry his life partner under Pennsylvania law, and any marriage conducted outside Pennsylvania would not have been recognized by Pennsylvania law.
"Gateway divided its retiring employees into two groups: gay employees, who were absolutely barred from accessing Retiree Spouse Health Insurance benefits, and if they retired in 2013 were forever thereafter saddled with that disability; and heterosexuals, all of whom would have received the benefit in 2013 by simply marrying even the day before they retired, said Samuel J. Cordes, Seech's attorney.
"Thus, Gateway's policy imposed an explicit disability on gay employees that was not equally imposed on their heterosexual co-workers and that disability was because of the employee's sex. Such classifications violate the U.S. Constitution and also are an unlawful employment practice under the Civil Rights Act."
This decision should send a message to public employers that they cannot treat gay employees differently from their heterosexual employees in the benefits provided or in the opportunity to obtain those benefits." Cordes said.

Although Seech wished to legally marry his long term domestic partner at the time of his retirement in June 2013, he was unable to do so because same-sex marriage was not yet recognized or legal in Pennsylvania.
However, nearly a year after Seech retired, on May 20, 2014, same-sex marriage was mandated in Pennsylvania pursuant to the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania decision in Whitewood v. Wolf, 992 F. Supp. 2d (M.D. Pa. 2014).
Approximately two weeks later on June 4, 2014,Seech married his long term domestic partner.
Shortly after his marriage, in late June 2014, Seech asked Gateway if he could obtain health insurance benefits for his same-sex spouse. Gateway told Seech it would not pay for health insurance benefits for his same-sex spouse because he was unmarried at the time of his retirement, but that he could obtain health insurance benefits for his spouse at his own cost. Seech decided not to elect spousal coverage in June 2014 because to do so would result in him having to pay the approximately $888 per month insurance premium increase out of his own pocket.
In late 2015, Seech again asked Gateway about obtaining health insurance benefits for his same-sex spouse. Gateway again refused. 
In April 2016, Seech sued Gateway alleging it violated his equal protection and due process rights under the United States and Pennsylvania Constitutions and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Judge Hertzberg found Gateway violated the Constitution and Title VII and awarded damages, costs and fees.

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