Lambda Legal Secures Benefits for Same-Sex Spouses of Baltimore County Police Officers

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"These police officers put themselves in harm's way to keep Baltimore County safe. Now they will get the same employee protections for their spouses that other officers get."
November 22, 2011

(Baltimore, MD November 22, 2011) - Baltimore County must grant equal employment benefits to same-sex couples, Lambda Legal announced today, the result of a binding arbitration decision secured after the organization and police union filed grievances on behalf of Baltimore County police officers Margaret Selby and Juanika Ballard, who had been turned down for benefits for their same-sex spouses.

"Under Maryland law, Officer Selby and Officer Ballard both have legal spouses who should be recognized. We are pleased that Baltimore County will finally have to fulfill its obligation to these dedicated long-time employees who just want to protect their families," said Susan Sommer, Lambda Legal Director of Constitutional Litigation. "This binding arbitration order is the final step in a long process. For years, these police officers have put themselves in harm's way to keep Baltimore County safe. Now they will get the same employee protections for their spouses that other officers get."

"We are thankful to the Fraternal Order of Police for standing by its lesbian and gay members to make sure these officers are treated like their colleagues," Sommer said.

"We are pleased that our members received this binding arbitration award," said David M. Rose, Baltimore County Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 4 Second Vice-President. "This decision affirms our position that the provisions of our Memorandum of Understanding are negotiated for and apply equally to all our members."

After marrying her partner of nearly two decades in Massachusetts where same-sex couples may legally wed, Officer Margaret Selby filed a request with the Baltimore County Police Department to add her spouse, Ms. Colette Hayward, to her health care coverage, and to confirm that Ms. Hayward is eligible to receive other spousal protections. She was denied. Officer Juanika Ballard and her spouse, Monica Williams, have been together for over six years and in June 2009 were married in Connecticut. When Officer Ballard requested spousal benefits, she also was denied. Representatives of Baltimore County told both women the benefits were denied because their spouses were of the same sex.

Officer Selby is one of the most commended officers in the Department. For three years running she has been named officer of the year in her area and has received awards for repeatedly putting herself in harm's way to shield others from danger. For example, Officer Selby stepped in and disarmed a distraught man preparing to shoot a social worker visiting his home. Officer Ballard has also given her all to her job. She was badly injured in the line of duty in 2009, when a drunk driver struck her patrol car, pinning her inside until she was cut free and airlifted with a broken back to the hospital. Ms. Williams was by her side through her long recuperation, but when Officer Ballard's father-in-law died, the Department refused to give her spousal bereavement leave to be by Ms. Williams' side.

The arbitrator agreed that denying spousal benefits to these dedicated police officers is discriminatory and contrary to the County's agreements giving benefits to spouses legally recognized under Maryland law. Maryland Attorney General Gansler, in his opinion dated February 23, 2010, summarized Maryland's long-standing law recognizing validly entered out-of-state marriages. Baltimore County impermissibly denied spousal benefits to Officer Selby and Officer Ballard by refusing to respect the couples' Massachusetts and Connecticut marriages simply because their spouses are of the same sex.

Officer Selby and her wife, Colette Hayward, raised two daughters together. Officer Selby said, "I've put my life on the line to protect the people of Baltimore County. Like all my fellow officers, I need spousal benefits so that I can protect my family."

Officer Juanika Ballard and her wife, Monica Williams, are raising three sons together and they are expecting twins. Officer Ballard said, "My wife Monica, like other police officers' spouses, worries that I will be hurt in the line of duty. No one can predict the future, but these benefits provide the safety net that other married couples have."

"We are glad that these officers can finally rest assured that they can receive equal benefits to protect their families," added Sommer, "but every married same-sex couple shouldn't need a lawyer to secure the protections their co-workers can take for granted. Until Maryland establishes marriage equality, families like these will continue to be vulnerable to discrimination."

Susan Sommer, Director of Constitutional Litigation, is handling this matter for Lambda Legal. She is joined by co-counsel Peter M. Brody and Michael Laufert of Ropes & Gray LLP.  The Fraternal Order of Police is represented by Matthew Clash-Drexler of Bredhoff & Kaiser, PLLC.