Victory! Texas Employee Retirement System Enrolls Wife of UNT Administrator in Health Plan

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July 2, 2015
(Dallas, TX, July 2, 2015) – Lambda Legal client Deborah Leliaert today confirmed that she has been able to enroll her wife, Paula Woolworth, in the spousal health insurance plan administered by the Employee Retirement System of Texas (ERS) for state employees.
Last month, Lambda Legal filed suit against ERS on behalf of Leliaert, an administrator at the University of North Texas in Denton, for denying spousal health insurance coverage for her spouse. Lambda Legal argued that by refusing spousal benefits only to employees with a same sex spouse, Texas violated the liberty and equality guarantees of the U.S. Constitution. Last week, the historic U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which found state marriage bans that exclude same-sex couples violate the U.S. Constitution, bolstered the claims against ERS and the agency changed its policy. ERS notified state employees with same-sex spouses that they would be able to enroll their spouses beginning July 1. 
“It is beautiful to see the barriers to equality continue to fall in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s historic ruling striking down discriminatory state marriage bans,” Lambda Legal Senior Counsel Kenneth D. Upton Jr. said. “When we filed this case on behalf of Deborah and Paula, we did so for two reasons: first, to highlight Deborah’s unequal treatment compared to her similarly situated colleagues with different-sex spouses in violation of the U.S. Constitution, and second, in anticipation that the Supreme Court might rule in favor of equality, to be sure that ERS complied. Well, the Supreme Court did and, to ERS’s credit, the agency quickly complied. This is what justice looks like.”
Deborah Leliaert has been an employee of the University of North Texas for nearly 24 years, currently serving as Vice President for University Relations and Planning. Her wife, Paula Woolworth, worked for many years in the risk management and managed health care industry, including 15 years for a Fortune 500 company. She retired in 2011 and moved into volunteer service. She is currently in her second term as Alderman for the Town of Shady Shores Town Council, serves on the boards of two nonprofit organizations, one working with low-income children and the other promoting humane treatment of domestic pets and adoption of shelter animals, and is a member of the Chancellor’s Club Advisory Board at the University of Kansas. Deborah and Paula married in California in 2008, in the brief window after the California Supreme Court ruling allow same-sex couples to marry and before the passage of the discriminatory Proposition 8. 
At the time of Paula’s retirement, Deborah was informed by UNT’s Human Resources Department that Paula was ineligible for spousal health insurance coverage due to Texas’ marriage restrictions. Deborah attempted to enroll Paula in 2014 after a U.S. District Court judge, in DeLeon v. Perry, struck down the state’s discriminatory marriage bans, but was denied. The U.S. District Court ruling had been stayed pending an appeal to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard arguments in that appeal plus appeals from Louisiana and Mississippi in January. Wednesday, the Fifth Circuit struck down the restrictive marriage bans in all three states, relying on the Supreme Court’s Obergefell decision.
“It is a tremendous relief to have enrolled Paula in the health plan, and I hear from colleagues with same-sex spouses that they, too, are now enrolling their spouses in the family health care plan,” Leliaert said. “It’s too bad that ERS needed a ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court to do the right thing, but once that ruling came, ERS acted quickly and conscientiously.”
Senior Counsel Kenneth D. Upton, Jr. and Staff Attorney Paul Castillo handled the case for Lambda Legal.
The case is Leliaert v. Ragland. Information on the case is available here:



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Press contact: Tom Warnke, Cell: 213-841-4503: Email: Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.