Court: Title VII Covers Claim Employer Denied Health Care Coverage to Same-Sex Spouse

A cautionary tale out of the Northwest U.S. for employers that cling to the notion that they can deny health care benefits to their employees’ same-sex spouses without any consequences under Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act.

A male employee of BNSF Railways stated a claim for sex discrimination under Title VII by charging the company with failing to extend health insurance coverage to his same-sex spouse, a federal district court in Washington State has ruled.

The dispute covered the period between when the male employee married his same-sex partner and January 1, 2014, when BNSF changed its policy of not recognizing any marriage other than one between a man and a woman.

The company argued that this really was a case of sexual orientation discrimination–which Title VII does not forbid.

But the court rejected that, holding that a careful reading of the complaint, construed in favor of the employee, showed he was alleging disparate treatment based on his sex not his sexual orientation. Specially, that he as a male who married a male was treated differently in comparison to his female co-workers who also married males.

The case is Hall v. BNSF Railway Company, No. C13-2160 RSM (W.D. Wash. Sept. 22, 2014).



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