Gay Widower Sues San Francisco Bay Area Union Pension Plan for Refusing to Provide Survivor Benefits After His Husband Died

Today, the widower of a hotel telecommunications engineer in San Francisco sued the IUOE Stationary Engineers Local 39 Pension Plan and its Board of Trustees for refusing to provide him with a spousal pension benefit required by the terms of the pension plan and federal law, solely because both spouses are men. Robert Pritchard and Thomas Conwell met in San Francisco in 2005, quickly falling in love and becoming inseparable. They were soulmates, Robert says, adding that their interests in antiques, church, and historical preservation brought them even closer. The couple married in San Francisco in 2008. Together, they worked on a number of preservation projects across San Francisco, including an effort to save the Sacred Heart Church in the Western Addition neighborhood. Thomas, who worked at the San Francisco Hilton for more than 30 years, passed away from a terminal brain disease in 2012. After Thomas died, Robert, a hospice nurse, sought a spousal survivor benefit under his husband’s pension plan, which defines “spouse” as “a person to whom a participant is legally married.” Even though the two were validly married, the plan refused to provide a spousal benefit to Robert solely because both spouses were men. “My husband’s death is the worst thing that has ever happened to me,” Robert said. “To be denied his pension benefits while I mourned his loss and tried to heal from the hole that was left when he died wasn’t only demoralizing, it was dehumanizing. My family is just like all other families, and no one should be denied rights because of who they are.” Robert is represented by the Civil...

Settlement Underscores Importance of Hiring Certified Sign Language Interpreters

A&A Languages, a Centennial interpretation and translation agency, reached an agreement relating to the use of certified sign language interpreters. A&A and the plaintiffs — two Deaf women and the husband of one — assert that the agreement serves to clarify the benefits and importance of utilizing sign language interpreters who have been certified by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf (RID). This is important in communications involving health care and human service resources. A&A affirmed that it will continue its practice of hiring and assigning only sign language interpreters who are certified by the RID. The Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC) urges other translation agencies who provide interpretation services to use RID-certified interpreters. The Colorado Consumer Protection Act specifies that it is a “deceptive trade practice” to claim to be a “sign language interpreter” if the person is not in fact RID certified. RID certification is important for those who sign and those who do not and who require accurate and prompt communications with one another, for example, in crucial medical or social services interactions. The promptness, accuracy and skill possessed by a certified sign language interpreter can promote efficient and effective communications involving complex and difficult communications in a variety of settings. Certified interpreters are required to demonstrate skills necessary to discuss complex matters. They also are required to adhere to standards of professionalism and confidentiality designed to ensure that all parties involved, regardless of their signing ability or identity, receive effective communication in medical, social services, and business contexts. A&A Languages, founded in 2002, is one of the leading providers of interpretation and...

CREEC-Colorado visits CREEC-California

Earlier this week, Tim and I got the chance to check out CREEC’s California office.  Come along for a quick tour!  Julie Wilensky, Director of our California office, and Executive Director Tim Fox in front of the building where our California office is housed. CREEC’s office is in the infinitely-hip WeWork building, which offers individual offices, and conference rooms, for example, this one with a giant scrabble game on the wall: And – so not kidding! – free beer on tap: I think I was most impressed with the view, though. Stop by and visit if you’re in the...

Press Coverage of CREEC’s Same-Sex Spousal Benefit Case Against FedEx

A number of media outlets covered the recent favorable decision in Schuett v. FedEx, CREEC’s case challenging FedEx’s refusal to provide a spousal pension benefit to the surviving same-sex spouse of a longtime employee. Here is a partial listing of articles: Judge Rules Against FedEx in Same-Sex Benefits Fight, The Recorder, January 4, 2016 California Court Keeps FedEx Same-Sex Widow’s Suit Alive, Law360, January 5, 2016 FedEx Takes Needlessly Cruel Swipe At a Grieving Lesbian Widow, ThinkProgress, Jan. 5, 2016 FedEx May Owe Same-Sex Spouse Pension Benefits, Bloomberg BNA Pension & Benefits Daily, Jan. 6, 2016 Lesbian widow’s lawsuit seeking benefits from FedEx allowed to proceed, Washington Blade, Jan. 4, 2016 FedEx Denies Benefits to Lesbian Because Her Wife Died Six Days Before DOMA Was Overturned, Slate, Jan. 5, 2016 Same-sex benefits suit against FedEx can proceed, judge rules, San Francisco Chronicle, Jan. 9,...

CREEC files suit to ensure reasonable accommodations for family of Autistic boy

CREEC filed a new case in the District of Colorado that underscores the importance of reasonable accommodations under the Fair Housing Act. When Hannah and Chris Lofland were looking for a home in Larkspur, Colorado, they never imagined that their neighbors would attempt to deny their son the accommodations he needs.  William Lofland is, according to his doctor, “on the severe end of the autism spectrum.”  He and his parents need quick access to a specially-equipped recreational vehicle to help calm him when he melts down.   The RV includes required medical equipment and the ride — over the rolling hills of the Front Range — provides William with the necessary sensory stimulation to calm him.  Having it parked next to their home helps prevent self-injury and avoids trips to the emergency room.  The Loflands also need to construct a six-foot-high fence to ensure that William does not stray from their home. The Loflands’ new home was subject to covenants, enforced by an “Architectural Control Committee,” that prohibited parking RVs on residents’ property and subjected the construction of fences to review by the ACC.   Despite the Loflands’ repeated requests — complete with letters from William’s doctor and photographs of the RV and fence — the ACC refused to approve the requested accommodations. The Fair Housing Act was passed in 1964 to address widespread racial discrimination in housing.  It was amended in 1988 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability and, as part of this amendment, to require reasonable accommodations in rules and policies where necessary to permit a person with a disability to use and enjoy his home.  Congress...