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Benefits/ERISA

Cozen partner’s surviving same-sex spouse gets her law firm profit-sharing fund, federal judge rules

Posted Jul 30, 2013 11:45 AM CDT
By Martha Neil

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The surviving same-sex spouse of a deceased Cozen O'Connor partner is entitled to receive the attorney's $49,000 law firm profit-sharing balance, a federal judge has ruled.

Last month's U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking the federal Defense of Marriage Act paved the way for Monday's decision in favor of Jennifer Tobits, said U.S. District Judge C. Darnell Jones II. The parents of attorney Sarah Ellyn Farley, who died of cancer in 2010 at age 37, had also sought the money, reports the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Although Farley worked in the Philadelphia-based law firm's Chicago office and the two women resided in Illinois, the case was pursued in Philadelphia. The law firm, which is headquartered there, filed a local interpleader action asking the federal court to determine to whom the profit-sharing plan balance should be paid.

The two women married in Canada, in a ceremony that was considered valid in Illinois (which recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions), but not in Pennsylvania, the article explains. However, Pennsylvania law is preempted, as far as the Cozen profit-sharing plan is concerned, because it is governed by the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act, Jones said. He also determined that Tobits met the definition of spouse in the Cozen ERISA plan.

Thus, under the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in favor of Edith Windsor, a surviving same-sex spouse who sued when to forced to pay $360,000 in New York estate tax, the ERISA plan benefits for must go to Farley's legal spouse, the judge held. "Windsor makes clear that where a state has recognized a marriage as valid the U.S. Constitution requires that the federal laws and regulations of this country acknowledge that marriage."

A Washington Blade article provides further details and links to a copy of the opinion (PDF) in the case.

Hat tip: Business Insider

See also:

ABAJournal.com: "SCOTUS strikes down DOMA, which banned federal benefits to married gay couples"

ABAJournal.com: "Death of Female Partner Puts Cozen Firm in Center of Same-Sex Marriage Comity Case"

ABAJournal.com: "Lesbian Spouse of Deceased Cozen Partner Sues Firm and Spouse’s Parents Over Benefits"

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