Judge rules Catholic nonprofit must cover medical health insurance for same-sex spouses

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A federal judge has ruled that Catholic Relief Services, a global humanitarian aid organization based in Baltimore, has been discriminating against a gay worker by denying his husband medical health insurance.

When the worker, known in court records as “John Doe,” took the job as an information analyst for Catholic Relief Services in 2016, he was told his husband could get medical health insurance through the organization’s spousal advantages system, in response to the legal documents.

“After which CRS reached out to him and said, oh, that was a mistake. We don’t cover same-sex spouses,” said Eve Hill, a partner on the law firm Brown Goldstein & Levy and certainly one of several lawyers representing Doe.

CRS did initially provide the advantages to Doe’s husband, but after months of discussions between Doe and the nonprofit’s human resources department, the organization removed Doe’s husband from the health plan in October 2017.

Doe filed a grievance with the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission in 2018, followed by a lawsuit in 2020. Last week, Judge Catherine Blake on the U.S. District Court in Baltimore ruled in Doe’s favor. Citing the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2020 ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, Blake wrote in her opinion that CRS’s refusal to insure Doe’s husband amounts to discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. CRS also violated the federal Equal Pay Act and the Maryland Equal Pay for Equal Work Act, Blake wrote.

“If Doe had been a girl as an alternative of a person, and Doe had been married to a person, Doe would have gotten these health care advantages. It’s totally easy,” said Marley Weiss, who makes a speciality of employment law on the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law and isn’t involved in Doe’s lawsuit. “The incontrovertible fact that Doe is the person is the sport changer here.”

Catholic Relief Services declined to comment for this story.

In legal filings, the organization’s lawyers argued that as a non secular organization, it doesn’t have to offer spousal advantages to someone the Catholic Church doesn’t recognize as a spouse. Providing spousal advantages to a same-sex spouse would “substantially burden its exercise of faith,” in violation of the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, attorneys argued.

Weiss called these arguments “evasive maneuvers.”

“They bring about within the argument that Title VII doesn’t apply to them in any respect, because they are a church-related entity, or since the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in a roundabout way, would exempt them from Title VII and the Equal Pay Act,” Weiss said.

These arguments are problematic because they don’t align either with how the courts have interpreted the laws, or with a plain reading of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, she said. Weiss said this case is less complex because Doe’s job duties involve designing databases and performing other internal administrative duties, however the consequence might need been different if the job involved a non secular element.

“Then there’d be a reasonably good argument that under existing Supreme Court case law, which has relied on the First Amendment to do a variety of rewriting of Title VII, the argument can be that the church can be entitled to insist that Doe adhere to their religious tenants,” she said, “and due to this fact, they’d be entitled to discriminate against Doe.”

In legal filings, CRS disputes that Doe’s job duties aren’t tied to the organization’s religious mission.

Catholic Relief Services could appeal the ruling. If the ruling stands, CRS will need to offer the identical advantages to Doe’s husband and other same-sex spouses that it provides to opposite-sex spouses. Other details about how much money Doe would receive within the legal settlement still have to be worked out.

But Doe, who still works for CRS, said in an interview that compensation isn’t his primary goal. As an alternative it’s “that CRS would equally provide health advantages to same-sex spouses, the identical they do opposite sex spouses, that is the final word goal,” he said.

Doe also said he views this case as greater than a discrimination dispute between him and his employer.

“There are tons of and 1000’s of individuals across the country in my situation who have not been given the incredible opportunity to fight back against the discrimination,” Doe said. “We’re young. We’re healthy. There are people who find themselves losing their insurance who’re sick.”

Asked why he has chosen to stay employed at CRS, Doe said he wants to go away when he finds one other job that will be higher for his skilled development — not due to discrimination.

Still, he said he doesn’t feel like his job at CRS is secure.

“It makes me uncomfortable to know that my employer desires to have the fitting to discriminate against me due to my sexuality,” he said.

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