In a case that has obvious implications for employee benefit plans, the Veterans’ Administration (“VA”) has just provided survivor benefits to the partner of a service member, even though the partners were not married before the service member’s death.
Federal law contains provisions forbidding discrimination based on several classifications: race, sex, veteran status, etc. However, no federal law explicitly prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation or transgender status. As a result, many employers in states which do not have their own legislation barring discrimination based on sexual orientation or transgender status have assumed that no laws prohibited such discrimination.
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) has now called this assumption into question, by bringing several lawsuits treating discrimination based on sexual orientation or transgender status as a form of sex discrimination prohibited by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This issue is a focus of the EEOC’s Strategic Enforcement Plan for 2013-2016. Read more.
This post was updated on June 26, 2015 to reflect the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which struck down all state bans on same-sex marriage.
The Treasury Department and the IRS announced on August 29, 2013 that all legal same-sex marriages will be recognized for federal tax purposes. On September 18, 2013, the Department of Labor took the same position for purposes of the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA“). The announcements and corresponding revenue ruling
Because employee benefit plans are extensively regulated by federal law, this announcement means that all employers will be required to recognize such marriages for many employee benefits purposes. Conversely, employers in states that treat civil unions or domestic partnerships as if they were marriages will nevertheless be forbidden from treating such arrangements as marriages for certain employee benefits purposes. However, the precise impact will depend on whether the plan is subject to ERISA or whether it is a governmental or church plan exempt from ERISA. The chart below sets forth areas in which the announcement will affect the operation of different types of plans.