Houston and its lesbian mayor being sued over offering then rescinding same-sex benefits

Lambda Legal files federal lawsuit seeking to preserve benefits for partners of city employees

Houston and its lesbian mayor being sued over offering then rescinding same-sex benefits
26 December 2013

Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit today (26 December) against the city of Houston to try and preserve health insurance and other benefits for the same-sex partners of city employees.

The lawsuit names the city and its mayor, Annise Parker, who happens to be a lesbian.

The lawsuit was filed in the US District Court for the Southern District of Texas on behalf three City of Houston employees. They were legally married to same-sex spouses in other states since same-sex marriage is not legal in Texas.

The city, led by Parker, extended employee coverage to same-sex spouses in late November but one month later, canceled the coverage.

‘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 Kenneth Upton, senior counsel in Lambda Legal’s South Central Regional Office in Dallas.

‘At the end of the day this case is about equal pay for equal work,’ Upton added. ‘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.’

Parker had announced on 20 November that all lawfully-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.

Shortly after the announcement, two Houston taxpayers sued the Parker and the city claiming the benefits were illegal. They were able to secure a temporary restraining order blocking the benefits.

The city is defending against the legal challenge but has rescinded the benefits for now.

‘The notice from the City was like a punch in the stomach,’ said Noel Freeman, lead plaintiff in the lawsuit.

Freeman, administrative coordinator with the city’s Public Works & Engineering Office, said he signed his husband of 11 years up ‘within an hour of finding out’ about the benefits.

‘And now, just a month later, they tell us they’re going to have to take it away … How is this fair?’

The other plaintiffs in the lawsuit are a Houston police officer and her wife of less than a year and a systems administrator and his husband of more than five years.

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