Carol Calhoun quoted in article on elimination of domestic partner benefits
(Posted on February 10, 2015 by )


gay_marriageCarol V. Calhoun was quoted in an article in Human Resources Online entitled “Fair Play… Or Not?” about companies’ actions to eliminate domestic partner benefits for unmarried employees who live in states in which same-sex marriage is now legal. With the majority of US states now allowing same-sex marriage, such actions are becoming more common. Ms. Calhoun is quoted both on why eliminating domestic partner benefits is popular among employers, and some of the pitfalls that may occur.

Cafeteria Plans Need to Move Fast to Take Advantage of Year-End IRS Guidance
(Posted on December 16, 2013 by )


irsOn June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court issued the Windsor decision, striking down a provision in the federal Defense of Marriage Act which had precluded recognition of same-sex marriages. In September, the Internal Revenue Service (“IRS”) announced that same-sex couples legally married in a state that recognized such marriages would now be treated as married for purposes of federal taxation, regardless of whether their marriages were recognized by their state of residence. The IRS announcement was made retroactive, meaning that such marriages will be recognized back to their inception.

The IRS has issued Notice 2014-1, which provides guidance on the application of the new rules to cafeteria plans. However, in many instances employers will need to move quickly to take advantage of relief granted.

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Businesses Denied State Income Tax Deductions for Fringe Benefits for Same-Sex Spouses
(Posted on December 4, 2013 by )


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The below article has now been rendered obsolete by Bostic v. Schaefer (4th Cir. 2014), cert. denied (2014), which struck down the ban on same-sex marriage in Virginia and by the Supreme Court’s later decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which struck down all bans on same-sex marriage.

As discussed in the chart, “State Taxes and Married Same-Sex Couples,” most states that do not recognize same-sex marriage are requiring same-sex married couples to file their tax returns as single (or head of household, if they qualify for that status). However, Virginia has now gone further, denying certain Virginia businesses state income tax deductions for fringe benefits they provide to same-sex spouses. As discussed below, the language used is muddy, and the holding is probably considerably less broad than it appears. However, businesses in Virginia need to be aware of its potential effect on them. And to the extent that other states take the same route, businesses in states other than Virginia would also be affected.

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If You Like Your Insurance, You Can Keep Your Insurance… At Least For Another Year
(Posted on November 14, 2013 by )


HealthInsuranceIn the wake of negative publicity about individuals and small businesses losing their existing health insurance due to the Affordable Care Act, the Department of Health & Human Services, in consultation with the Treasury Department and the Department of Labor, has provided transitional relief. The transitional relief applies only if certain conditions are met, as follows:

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California Public Pension Ballot Initiative Would Eliminate Vested Right to Future Benefit Accruals
(Posted on October 16, 2013 by )


CaliforniaA California statewide ballot initiative proposal, The Pension Reform Act of 2014 was filed on October 15, 2013. The proposal if passed would amend the California constitution to provide that employees have no vested rights in future pension and retiree health benefit accruals, but only to benefits accrued based on past employment. As such, it would cause the vesting of public retirement plans in California to be more comparable to the vesting of private retirement plans under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”). The proposal, if adopted, would be particularly significant inasmuch as California has historically been a leader in the recognition of the right of public employees to vesting in future benefit accruals.

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California Superior Court Finds Vested Right to Retiree Health Benefits
(Posted on September 23, 2013 by )


CaliforniaPension plans of businesses and most tax-exempt organizations are subject to federal rules which permit them to discontinue accruals of benefits at any time, so long as previously accrued benefits are preserved. (Internal Revenue Code section 411.) By contrast, pension plans of governmental employers are typically subject to protections under court decisions based on federal or state constitutions provisions forbidding the “impairment of contracts,” which may require the preservation of not only past but future benefit accruals. The leading cases in this area come from California, although courts in other states have often looked to them in interpreting similar constitutional provisions in other states. See, e.g., Betts v. Board of Administration, 21 Cal.3d 859, 864 (1978).

Starting in 2011, California courts have begun applying similar reasoning to the provision of retiree health benefits, as well as pension benefits. In Retired Employees v. Co. of Orange, 52 Cal. 4th 1171, 266 P.3d 287, 134 Cal. Rptr. 3d 779 (2011), the California Supreme Court held that

under California law, a vested right to health benefits for retired county employees can be implied under certain circumstances from a county ordinance or resolution. Whether those circumstances exist in this case is beyond the scope of the question posed to us by the Ninth Circuit.

A recent case from the Los Angeles Superior Court, Los Angeles City Attorneys Association v. City of Los Angeles has provided additional guidance on this issue, although it seems to raise as many questions as it answers.

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Who is a spouse? Different federal agencies take differing approaches after Windsor
(Posted on August 13, 2013 by )


gay_marriageSince the publication of this article, Treasury and the IRS have announced that any legal same-sex marriage will be recognized for federal tax purposes, regardless of whether the couple’s home state recognizes the marriage. See this post. The Department of Labor has also issued final regulations under the Family & Medical Leave Act which recognize a marriage, regardless of the couple’s domicile, if a) it occurred within the United States, and it was valid in the state in which it took place, and b) it occurred outside of the United States, if it was valid in the jurisdiction in which it took place and it could have been entered into in at least one state.

Federal law requires that employer plans determine marital status in a variety of contexts, ranging from requirements that ERISA-covered retirement plans provide spousal death benefits (e.g., a qualified joint and survivor annuity, qualified preretirement survivor annuity, or payment of the participant’s account balance to the spouse) to COBRA (health care continuation) rights in the event of a divorce or separation. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, it is clear that a same-sex married couple must be treated the same as an opposite-sex married couple for these purposes. But when will a same-sex couple be treated as married? Weeks after the Windsor decision, the few federal agencies that have issued guidance have taken wildly disparate approaches.

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Federal District Court Blocks Michigan Law Eliminating Health Benefits for Domestic Partners of Public Employees
(Posted on July 4, 2013 by )


US District Court, Eastern District of MichiganMichigan Public Act 297 (“Act”) prohibits public employers from providing medical and other fringe benefits to any person cohabitating with a public employee unless that person is legally married to the employee, or is a legal dependent, or eligible to inherit under the State’s intestacy laws. In a June 28 decision, U.S. District Judge David Lawson (E.D. Mich.) has issued a preliminary injunction blocking enforcement of the Act based on a finding that the plaintiffs (same-sex couples of which one works for a Michigan local government) “have stated a viable claim based on the Equal Protection Clause on which they are likely to succeed.”

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