Widow of longtime FedEx worker sues over denial of spouse's pension benefits

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The same-sex widow of a longtime FedEx worker is suing the company, saying it refused to pay her spousal survivor’s benefits.

The suit (PDF), filed Wednesday in federal court in Oakland, Calif., alleges that FedEx refused to provide the benefits because its pension plan incorporates the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which the U.S. Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional in 2013.

As a result of that ruling, federally-regulated retirement plans must recognize the legal marriages of same-sex couples for purposes of survivor benefits, the suit alleges.

The plaintiff, Stacy Schuett, was legally married to Lesly Taboada-Hall, a 26-year employee of FedEx, who died of cancer June 20, 2013, the suit alleges. As Taboada-Hall’s surviving spouse, Schuett says she is legally entitled to a survivor annuity beginning on the date of Taboada-Hall’s death.

Nina Wasow, one of Schuett’s lawyers, said in a National Center for Lesbian Rights press release that federal pension law protects same-sex spouses the same as it does opposite-sex spouses.

“Employees who have same-sex spouses deserve the same certainty as others that their hard-earned retirement benefits will be there to protect their families,” she said.

NCLR legal director Shannon Minter, who also represents Schuett, said FedEx can’t rely on DOMA to justify its discrimination against Schuett and the couple’s two children.

“The Supreme Court’s decision striking down DOMA made clear that employers must recognize the spouses of their gay and lesbian employees,” she said.

Lawyers for FedEx could not be reached for immediate comment.

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