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Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Impact of Supreme Court’s Same-Sex Marriage Decision on Employee Benefits

On June 27, 2015, the United States Supreme Court held that marriage between same-sex couples is a fundamental right under the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process and equal protection clauses.  Obergefell v. Hodges, 135 S.Ct. 2584, 575 U.S. ___ (2015).  Although further litigation may occur, this ruling clears the way for same-sex marriage in all 50 states.  This ruling is significant for employers because same-sex couples will now probably be entitled to state marriage and company spousal benefits.

Since marriage triggers multiple workplace benefits, employers should reexamine any policies implicating spouses and those that may define marriage along gender-specific lines. The most relevant benefits affected by this decision are health, bereavement, retirement and fringe benefits.  Leave policies, including FMLA policies, should also be examined. Many employers likely have already begun this process in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in U.S. v. Windsor, 133 S.Ct. 2675, 570 U.S. ___ (2013), which held federal benefits could not be denied to validly married same-sex couples, and Barrier v. Vasterling, No. 1416-CV03892 (Jackson Cnty. Cir. Ct., Oct. 3, 2014), where a Missouri court ruled same-sex couples could not be denied benefits under state law. It is also important to note that Obergefell neither creates a new protected class under Title VII nor expands any discrimination laws.

As always, the foregoing is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice regarding any particular situation and should not be relied on as such. Please contact one of our labor and employment lawyers if you have any questions.

This update was prepared by Charles S. Elbert and D. Leo Human.

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