Lambda Legal and CREEC Urge Delta Airlines to Amend Pension Plan to Grant Benefits to Surviving Same-Sex Spouses

Photo of two caucasian men in jackets and ties.

Dan and Jay (right) at their wedding in November 2013.

“It is time for Delta and other major employers—many of whom are allies to the LGBT community—to update their boilerplate policies and remove this hurdle that affects same-sex couples who were barred from marriage for so long.”

Lambda Legal and the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center (CREEC) sent a letter to Delta Airlines on behalf of Dan Walter, a gay widower who was denied spousal survivor benefits after the death of his husband and partner of 21 years, Jay Beadle, who had 36 years of decorated service as an airline employee. The letter urges the LGBT-friendly Fortune 100 company to amend its pension plan terms to allow surviving same-sex spouses to receive survivor benefits even if their marriages did not meet the plan’s one-year marriage requirement.

“We have seen firsthand Delta’s demonstrated track record of support for the LGBT community, but now we look to Delta to be the leader we know it to be. Amend the pension plan to allow surviving same-sex spouses, many of whom didn’t have access to marriage until the Supreme Court decision in June, to receive survivor benefits despite not meeting the marriage duration requirement,” said Karen Loewy, Senior Staff Attorney at Lambda Legal. “In many cases, couples were married for less than a year before one of the spouses died, complicating access to spousal benefits. Surviving spouses shouldn’t be penalized because they were excluded from marriage for most of their time together.”

“Just because federal pension law allows these kinds of duration requirements does not make them fair or equitable,” said Julie Wilensky, Director of CREEC’s California office. “It is time for Delta and other major employers—many of whom are allies to the LGBT community—to update their boilerplate policies and remove this hurdle that affects same-sex couples who were barred from marriage for so long.”

Georgia residents Dan Walter and Jay Beadle were a loving couple for more than 21 years. In November, 2013, on their 21st anniversary, Dan and Jay legally married in Minnesota, knowing that there were no more treatment options for Jay’s cancer and that he had only a few months to live. Although they shared a home and finances, and cared for each other as a committed couple for more than two decades, they did not get married until shortly before Jay’s death because they lived in Georgia, which, throughout the duration of the couple’s relationship, did not allow same-sex couples to marry or recognize marriages of same-sex couples from out of state.

Two months after their marriage, in January 2014, Jay, a 36-year loyal employee of Northwest and Delta airlines, lost his battle with cancer. After Jay passed away, Dan applied for spousal survivor benefits under the Delta pension plan. His request was denied in March 2014, not because of any refusal to recognize the marriage, but because he and Jay were “married for less than one year on the date of Mr. Beadle’s death,” so he was “not eligible to receive a pre-retirement survivor benefit based on the Contract Pension Plan provisions.” Dan appealed, requesting that the Plan waive the one-year marriage duration requirement. The Committee denied his appeal on September 24, 2014.

“Jay and I were blessed with more than 20 years together, taking care of each other in all the ways that a committed couple would–physically, emotionally and financially,” Dan said. “When Jay became ill, we worked hard to try to make sure everything was taken care of. We couldn’t have imagined after all his years of service with Delta and how well they have treated us over the years that I would be denied a claim because of something beyond our control. I really hope Delta will get this straightened out before anyone else has to go through this.”

Lambda Legal and CREEC sent a letter today urging Delta to amend the plan retroactively to change the one-year marriage duration requirement, which is not mandated by ERISA or the Internal Revenue Code, because strictly enforcing a marriage duration requirement imposes significant hardship for surviving same-sex spouses who have experienced years of discrimination and who until very recently could not get married.

Read the letter

 

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