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Discrimination case against Catholic hospital awaits ruling

Same-sex marriage has been legal in West Virginia since October 2014. However, a West Virginia nurse says that her employer, Huntington's St. Mary's Medical Center, refused to allow her to add her spouse to her employer-sponsored health insurance plan after they married in 2015.

The woman, who filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission earlier this year, says that the benefits coordinator literally "took the paperwork out of my hands" after she told her the spouse she was adding to her plan was a woman. She says she was told that her spouse couldn't be on her plan because the hospital is Catholic. A spouse, under hospital policy, was defined as a "person of the opposite sex who is a husband or wife."

The EEOC is expected to rule soon in the St. Mary's case. However, the prospects look good based on its ruling in a similar case against another Catholic hospital in the state, Morgantown's Mon General Hospital.

In that case, the commission determined that the hospital violated Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by denying an employee's request to add her wife to her policy. That occurred back in 2013 -- before same-sex marriage was legal in West Virginia, but after state officials said they would no longer enforce the marriage ban that was in place. That Mon General employee and her wife are still working out a settlement with the hospital.

The EEOC, in its ruling on the Mon General case, said that the hospital's denial of coverage is a Title VII violation because it was "based on sex and based on sex stereotypes, which constitutes discrimination because of sex." The legal director for West Virginia's branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has been involved in both cases, says that although the hospitals refused their employees' requests, soon after they filed complaints, they both changed their policies to allow same-sex spouses on health insurance policies.

Of course, it's always best when employers can be persuaded to follow the law. However, some employers, particularly when they are affiliated with religious organizations, have claimed that they aren't required to follow anti-discrimination laws. Employees who believe that their rights are being violated, whether by a public or private employer, can and should seek legal guidance.

Source: Charleston Gazette-Mail, "WV hospitals denied insurance to same-sex spouses, employees allege," Erin Beck, Oct. 02, 2016

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