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Marriage Equality

Conn. Widower Sues Bayer for Spousal Pension Benefits

Conn. Widower Sues Bayer for Spousal Pension Benefits


In initially denying the benefits, the company cited DOMA -- but it continues to withhold the funds even though the relevant portion of DOMA has been struck down.

A Connecticut widower has filed suit against his late husband's employer, Bayer Corp., which denied him survivors' pension benefits, citing the Defense of Marriage Act, and continues to do so even after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key segment of the federal law almost a year ago.

Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders is handling the suit on behalf of Gerald Passaro of Milford, whose husband, Thomas Buckholz, was a chemist with the company for more than 20 years. They became a couple in 1995 and married in November 2008, shortly after same-sex couples gained marriage rights in Connecticut.

Buckholz died in January 2009, after which Passaro sought the benefits that the company's pension plan pays to surviving spouses of employees. He was told that because the plan was governed by federal law, including DOMA, which prevented the U.S. government from recognizing same-sex marriages, he was not eligible for benefits. Passaro then joined one of the lawsuits challenging DOMA.

In June of last year, the Supreme Court struck down the portion of DOMA preventing federal recognition of same-sex marriages, so Passaro again sought benefits through the Bayer pension plan. He was again denied.

"Despite the fact that DOMA has been found unconstitutional, Bayer continues to deny benefits to Jerry even though its pension plan provides benefits to all surviving spouses and even though federal law [the Employee Retirement Income Security Act] mandates pension benefits for surviving spouses under plans like Bayer's," said GLAD interim executive director Gary Buseck in a press release. "Bayer has turned a deaf ear to its legal and moral obligation to the widower of a dedicated employee, who is in need of this basic support that his husband earned."

GLAD filed the suit in May in U.S. District Court in Connecticut. Read more here.

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