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Same-sex partner of deceased college VP claims Cigna wrongfully denied life insurance claim

By Jim Boyle | Jan 8, 2015

ERIE - The same-sex domestic partner of a deceased official at a northwest Pennsylvania university says he was wrongfully denied payment from his loved one's life insurance claim.

Cigna Corporation refused to recognize Albert Celec, of Boardman, Ohio, as the lawful spouse and beneficiary of his late partner, Dr. Philip Ginnetti, according to a lawsuit filed at the Erie County Court of Common Pleas and removed to the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.

Celec seeks compensatory and punitive damages against Delaware-based Cigna on four counts, including negligent misrepresentation, breach of contract and bad faith. His prayer for relief also includes the reformation of Cigna's policy to recognize domestic partners as spouses.

He lodges five counts against his partner's employer, Edinboro University of Pennsylvsania, including negligence, breach of contract and violating the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution by failing to list him as the beneficiary on Ginnetti's life insurance application.

According to the complaint, Celec and Gennetti lived together as domestic partners beginning in 1994, entering into a shared living agreement in March 1999. In 2010, Gennetti signed on as Edinboro University's provost and vice president, attracted primarily by the opportunity to take advantage of the school's non-discrimination policy toward employee benefits.

Shortly after his hiring, Gennetti applied for and received recognition of Celec as a qualified domestic partner for health care and other benefits, the complaint says. Under the management benefits program, Gennetti received $50,000 coverage of life insurance from Prudential and a right to purchase supplemental coverage. During the application process for an additional $100,000 of life insurance from Cigna, the claim says, a human resources staff member from the university allegedly neglected to list Celec in the paperwork as the beneficiary.

After Gennetti's death in June 2012, Prudential provided the $50,000 payout of the claim, but Cigna refused to provide Celec the policy proceeds, claiming he did not meet the standards of a legal spouse under Delaware law, where the insurance company is headquartered, the complaint says.

Despite letters confirming Celec as Gennetti's domestic partner sent by Edinboro's vice president of human resources and Gennetti's mother, who received the policy payment as Gennetti's next of kin, Cigna continued to deny the proceeds, saying it was bound by Delaware law, the complaint says.

The complaint says Gennetti and Celec met Delaware's standards for the definition of spouse in a civil union. The plaintiff says Cigna acted in bad faith by offering a life insurance policy to members of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education and failing to honor Celec's rightful claim by ignoring evidence provided during his administrative appeals.

Edinboro has also been held responsible for the denial of benefits, according to the claim. The plaintiff says that the school violated the equal protection clause by offering a life insurance policy that did not equally cover same-sex relationships and heterosexual marriages. The Cigna application would not recognize the domestic partner of a deceased policy holder if the name was not explicitly signified as the named beneficiary, while routinely providing insurance payments to heterosexual spouses regardless of whether or not the name had been provided, the complaint says.

Celec is represented by attorneys from Stember, Cohn & Davidson-Welling, LCC in Pittsburgh.

The case ID is 1:15-cv-00002-JFM.

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