Pritchard v. IUOE Stationary Engineers Local 39 Pension Plan

Tom Conwell (L) and Robert Pritchard on their wedding day

Tom Conwell (L) and Robert Pritchard on their wedding day

This lawsuit alleges that the IUOE Stationary Engineers Local 39 Pension Plan and its Board of Trustees violated the Employment Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”) by failing to pay Robert Pritchard a mandatory spousal survivor pension benefit required by the terms of the pension plan and federal law, solely because Mr. Pritchard was married to a man. Mr. Pritchard’s late husband, Thomas Conwell, worked as hotel telecommunications engineer in San Francisco for more than 30 years.

In November 2015, the Board of Trustees refused to provide the benefit by relying on the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional in June 2013. But DOMA, even while it was in effect, did not prohibit the payment of the benefit to Robert. And federal law requires retirement plans such as this one to recognize the legal marriages of same-sex couples for purposes of survivor benefits.

The case, Pritchard v. IUO Stationary Engineers Local 39 Pension Plan et al., No. 16-cv-355-LB, was filed on January 22, 2016 in the Northern District of California. Mr. Pritchard is represented by CREEC, along with co-counsel National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and Feinberg, Jackson, Worthman & Wasow LLP.

UPDATE: On March 7, 2016, CREEC and co-counsel resolved this lawsuit, and the pension plan is now paying Mr. Pritchard the spousal survivor benefit — a joint and survivor annuity.


Press coverage:

S.F. man sues after late husband’s pension fund refuses benefits, San Francisco Chronicle, January 22, 2016

Equal Rights Fight Brewing in San Francisco, NBC Bay Area, January 22, 2016

Man Sues Late Husband’s Union for Survivor Benefits, Courthouse News Service, January 26, 2016

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