Freeman v. Turner

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Status: Closed
Court:
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS HOUSTON DIVISION
Issues: Anti-LGBT Rulings, Laws and Amendments, Marriage, Relationships and Family Protections

Lambda Legal and co-counsel Morgan, Lewis & Bockius LLP filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of three married couples against Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner and the City of Houston to preserve health coverage and other benefits for the same-sex spouses of city employees. These benefits are suddenly at risk after two taxpayers convinced the Texas Supreme Court that Texas cities could defy Obergefell v. Hodges -- the United States Supreme Court case that made marriage equality the law of the land -- and deny married same-sex couples the rights of marriage.

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Lambda Legal and Morgan Lewis are representing:

  • Noel Freeman, an administrative coordinator with the City of Houston Public Works & Engineering Office and a 13-year employee of the City, who married his husband Brad Pritchett, in Washington, DC in 2010;
  • Yadira Estrada, a City of Houston police officer for 10 years who married her partner Jennifer Flores, in Maine in June 2013 after they had been together for seven years; and
  • Ron Reeser, a systems administrator for the City and 12-year city employee who married his husband, Vince Olivier, after they had been together for three years.

The lawsuit also asks the federal District Court to prevent the City of Houston from compelling repayment of employee benefits already provided.

Freeman v. Turner is similar to a lawsuit Lambda Legal filed in 2013 against Houston and then-Mayor Annise Parker in response to the original taxpayer lawsuit (Pidgeon v. Parker) that blocked Mayor Parker from extending benefits to the same-sex spouses of city employees. At that time, city officials had determined that an earlier U.S. Supreme Court ruling, U.S. v. Windsor, striking down part of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), required that benefits be equally available to the legal different-sex or same-sex spouses of city employees.

A Texas state district judge ruled in favor of the taxpayers, but the Texas Court of Appeals overturned that decision in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Obergefell ruling. Also after Obergefell, Lambda Legal settled and dismissed its original Freeman lawsuit.

The taxpayers continued to pursue their claims and petitioned the Texas Supreme Court for review. In the fall of 2016, the Texas Supreme Court initially declined to hear the case. However, after a concerted lobbying campaign, the Court reversed itself, heard the case, and reinstated the taxpayers’ lawsuit, signaling that state courts may not necessarily be bound by federal law—a ruling that appears intended to clear the way for state courts to try to avoid Obergefell.