Feds Fail To Appeal Benefits Order

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On December 18, Lambda Legal expressed outrage over the Obama Administration's latest move to deny equal benefits for LGBT employees when it defied a ruling by a chief federal appeals judge that ordered spousal health benefits for a married lesbian court employee.  Three days later, Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Chief Judge Alex Kozinski ruled that the Administration had waived its right to appeal the ruling and is conclusively bound. 

In November, Judge Kozinski ruled that Karen Golinski is entitled to receive health benefits for her wife, Amy Cunninghis, just as married heterosexual court workers do. Despite Judge Kozinski's ruling, the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) disagreed, contending that the law governing federal employees' health insurance and the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" (DOMA) prevents the required coverage.  OPM has instructed Golinski's insurer, Blue Cross and Blue Shield, not to follow Kozinski's orders.

"Lambda Legal believes Judge Kozinski is clearly correct that employees of OPM and the U.S. Department of Justice do not have superior authority to interpret federal law than federal judges," says Lambda Legal Marriage Project Director Jennifer C. Pizer in Friday's statement.

Lambda Legal also expressed its concern that the Obama Administration "has chosen to express its views of these legal questions through Friday-afternoon press statements, rather than by presenting its legal reasoning in the process required of Golinski."

"OPM has never disputed that this administrative forum is the appropriate venue for this discrimination claim, and yet has refused to participate and present its views. This is not the approach to issues of LGBT equality we had anticipated and deserve from the Obama Administration," Pizer says.

Lambda Legal and the Morrison & Foerster law firm are representing Golinski in her discrimination grievance against her employer.

December 23, 2009