Benitez v. North Coast Women's Care Medical Group
For nearly a year starting in August of 1999, Guadalupe "Lupita" Benitez was denied infertility treatment by the North Coast Women's Care Medical Group because she is a lesbian. Her former doctors are conservative Christians who claim their religious beliefs give them a right to withhold care from Benitez that they routinely provide to heterosexual patients. With Lambda Legal's help, Benitez has been fighting this injustice. The case is currently before the California State Supreme Court The highest state court in the state court system on the question whether individual antigay religious beliefs allow doctors to violate the state civil rights law that applies to commercial businesses, including for-profit medical clinics like North Coast Women's Care.
Federal law does not exempt health care providers from state civil rights laws. This has been upheld by the Appellate court/Mid-level appeals court A court with jurisdiction to review decisions of trial courts in California and sets an important Precedent A reported opinion of an appeals court that establishes the authority in the future on a given legal question as the first ruling of its kind in the nation.
Lambda Legal's Impact
Lambda Legal is fighting for the basic right of LGBT people to receive equal access to treatment from health care providers. This case also tackles the issue of religiously motivated discrimination. The California Supreme Court has said repeatedly that people with religious views who are engaged in business may not ignore laws that protect others from harm, including harms of discrimination, no matter how sincere their religious views may be. Lambda Legal is working to uphold this basic concept of fairness.
- July 2001 Case is filed in state court in San Diego.
- 2001 State Trial Court Court that hears the original arguments in a case, may include a jury throws Benitez's discrimination lawsuit out of court based on federal law concerning employee health benefit plans.
- October 2002 Lambda Legal joins Benitez's effort to get discrimination case reinstated by Filing Papers served upon a party in a case and filed with a court Amicus brief Brief submitted by person or organization to advise court on a particular issue in the case.
- March 2003 Court of Appeal issues unanimous, national first-of-its-kind decision that patients can sue doctors who discriminate based on sexual orientation and that federal law does not exempt health care providers from state civil rights laws.
- January 2004 Lambda Legal becomes Co-counsel Two or more unaffiliated lawyers representing the same party in the same matter for Benitez as case returns to trial court.
- April 2004 Trial court refuses doctors' request to throw out Benitez's claims for deceit, fraud and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
- October 2004 Trial court rules in favor of Benitez, stating that doctors' religious freedom rights do not permit them to ignore California's civil rights Statute A federal or state written law enacted by the Congress or state legislature and rebuffing doctors' attack on Benitez's civil rights claim.
- December 2005 Court of Appeal rules that trial court was premature to rule in our favor and should conduct a trial about whether the doctors violated the civil rights law before deciding whether religion can provide a defense to a civil rights claim. We ask for reconsideration because the Court of Appeal's ruling decided legal issues that had not been addressed by the parties, and the appellate court grants our request.
- December 2005
- March 2006 The Court of Appeal reissues its decision in essentially the same form.
- June 2006 California Supreme Court grants Lambda Legal's request for review of the Court of Appeal's decision.
- September 2006 Lambda Legal submits opening brief to California Supreme Court seeking reinstatement of the trial court decision that doctors must treat their lesbian patients like the rest of their patients, regardless of the doctors' religious beliefs.
- February 2007 Lambda Legal submits reply Brief to California Supreme Court
- February — April 2007 friend-of-the-court briefs filed by 30 leading health care, community health policy, civil rights groups, and the Attorney General of California supporting nondiscrimination in health care, and 16 conservative religious and legal groups supporting the doctors' religiously based discrimination.
- June 2007 Lambda Legal submits Answer to Amicus Curiae Briefs to California Supreme Court
- March 2008 Lambda Legal submits supplemental briefing per the Court's request addressing Code of Civil Procedure, section 437c
- May 2008 Lambda Legal submits supplemental brief explaining relevance of the California Supreme Court's decision in In re Marriage Cases that exclusion of lesbian and gay couples from marriage violates the California Constitution
- May 2008 Oral argument held before the California Supreme Court
- August 2008 Victory! California Supreme Court unanimously rules in favor of Benitez, making clear that California’s state law prohibiting discrimination must be followed.
- September 2009 Benitez, North Coast Women's Care Medical Group and the individual defendant physicians announce they have reached a mutually satisfactory settlement for an undisclosed sum of money.
Guadalupe “Lupita” Benitez
Jennifer C. Pizer
Jon B. Eisenberg of Eisenberg & Hancock, LLP; Robert Welsh, Seph McNamara and Lee Fink of O’Melveny & Myers LLP, in Los Angeles; and Albert Gross of Solana Beach, CA