This week, U.S. District Court Judge Phyllis Hamilton denied FedEx’s attempt to throw out a lawsuit filed by Stacey Schuett, a widow of a longtime FedEx employee who has been denied the survivor pension benefits her same-sex spouse earned during her long career with the company.
FedEx refuses to provide the benefits because its pension plan incorporates the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), even though that law was struck down as unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor on June 26, 2013. As a result of the Supreme Court’s decision, federally-regulated retirement plans must recognize the legal marriages of same-sex couples for purposes of survivor benefits.
“Following Windsor…ERISA plans, by definition, must treat couples in same-sex marriages as married for purposes of spousal benefits prescribed under ERISA, such as survivor benefits,” the Court ruled.
Stacey and Lesly Taboada-Hall were together for 30 years before they married on June 19, 2013 in their Sebastopol, California home in front of their two children and close family members and friends. The following day, Lesly – the family’s primary breadwinner – died after a three-year battle with uterine cancer. At the time of her death, she had been an employee of FedEx for more than 26 years and was fully vested in her pension. In January, Stacey, a stay-at-home mom to the couple’s two children, filed a lawsuit against FedEx after it refused to provide her federally required spousal pension benefits because both spouses are women.
“It is shocking to me that a company that pays lip service to diversity and the importance of its employees refuses to recognize our family,” said Schuett. “My wife earned her benefits during her decades of service to the company. No employer should be permitted to ignore our families and refuse to provide the hard-earned benefits of dedicated and skilled employees like Lesly.”
Stacey is represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), Feinberg Jackson Worthman & Wasow, the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center, and the Birnie Law Office.
According to FedEx’s “Diversity and Inclusion: Values in Action” website, FedEx believes that diversity is “a smart business practice.” The company page goes on, “But there’s another, far more important reason why we embrace Diversity and Inclusion: It’s simply the right thing to do.”
Said NCLR Senior Staff Attorney Amy Whelan: “Companies that claim to support diversity, as FedEx does, should be celebrating the downfall of DOMA, not trying to resurrect it for widows of FedEx employees who are fighting to receive the basic benefits their spouses earned during decades of service to the company.”
Attorney Nina Wasow, who also represents Schuett, said: “The June 2013 U.S. Supreme Court decision established once and for all that DOMA was an unconstitutional law. The fact that FedEx continues to rely on it as a defense in this case is not only legally wrong, it’s shameful.”