Same-sex couple, claiming ERISA violations, sues steel manufacturer for denial of benefits

By Jon Campisi | Feb 13, 2013

A suburban Philadelphia same-sex couple alleges in a newly filed federal complaint that

the company for which one of the plaintiff’s works refused to enroll the man’s husband as a dependent under the employee’s health plan despite what the lawsuit terms “unambiguous” language contained within the benefit program.

Bryce Ginther and Kit Kineef, who reside in West Conshohocken, Montgomery County, right outside of Philadelphia, claim in their civil action that Arcelormittal USA LLC, which is a steel manufacturing and supply company, denied benefits to Kineef.

The denial came after Ginther requested that his husband – the two were legally married in New York State in May 2012 – be enrolled as Ginther’s dependent under the Steelworkers Health and Welfare Plan, according to the complaint, which was jointly filed Feb. 11 at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania by Philadelphia attorneys Benjamin L. Jerner and Tiffany L. Palmer and Oakland, Calif. lawyers Teresa S. Renaker and Julie H. Wilensky.

The plaintiffs, who have been together for more than seven years, claim in their suit that the health plan contains language that merely lists “the Employee’s spouse” under its definition of dependent.

Ginther, who works as a steelworker for Arcelormittal, claims that his company rejected his request to have his husband added as a dependent because, “According to Arcelormittal, Same Sex Marriage is not covered under your insurance.”

“The denial plainly contradicts the language of the Plan, which has no definition of ‘spouse’ and does not exclude same-sex spouses from its definition of ‘Dependent,’” the lawsuit states.

The plaintiffs claim that the defendants’ action violates the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

At the time they married, the complaint states, Kineef had no health insurance, and that does not appear to have changed.

The suit claims that from January through March of last year, Ginther repeatedly inquired as to whether he could add his husband to his health plan, but that human resources representatives often ignored his request.

Finally, the suit shows, in late March 2012, Ginther received a letter from a company representative in Illinois that stated federal law “does not recognize civil unions” and that “anyone with whom a person might be party to a civil union is not eligible for the provision of spousal coverage under our ERISA Benefit Plans.”

The complaint further states that to date, Ginther has not been provided with a “reasonable claims procedure” consistent with the requirements of ERISA.

The plaintiffs seek a declaration that the defendants have violated the terms of the health plan by failing to enroll Kineef as Ginther’s eligible dependent from May 15, 2012, forward, and that the health plan enroll Kineef as the dependent retroactive to June 1, 2012.

Aside from Arcelormittal, the other defendants named in the suit are the Steelworkers Health and Welfare Plan and the Board of Trustees of the Steelworkers Health and Welfare Fund.

The couple also seeks unspecified damages and attorney’s fees.


The federal case number is 2:13-cv-00742-TON.

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