A newly-wed couple is suing the steel mill where one of the men works after his husband was denied coverage as a dependent on his health care plan.
Bryce Ginther married his boyfriend of seven years, Kit Kineef, in New York on May 15, 2012, and immediately requested that Kineef be added to his plan as a dependent. Four months later, he was denied coverage because, they were told, same-sex couples aren’t covered under the plan, according to the complaint filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
However, Ginther and Kineef argue that the plan doesn’t define "spouse" and doesn’t exclude same-sex spouses from being a "dependent."
Over the last several months, they allege, they have sent letters to various entities in an effort to fix the situation, but have gotten no response. They have exhausted their administrative remedies under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act and seek to have the court order the company, ArcelorMittal USA, and the Steelworkers Health and Welfare Plan to enroll Kineef in the plan retroactively to June 1, 2012.
The couple had been planning to get married for years before their wedding and, at the beginning of January 2012, Ginther asked the human resources representative at the ArcelorMittal steel mill in Conshohocken, Pa., where he works as an industrial electrician, about adding Kineef to his benefit plan once they were married, according to the complaint. Ginther never got a response to his repeated inquiries.
In March, Ginther got a letter from ArcelorMittal’s senior legal counsel in Chicago, saying that a partner joined in civil union to an employee wouldn’t be eligible for spousal coverage under the company’s ERISA benefit plan, according to the complaint.
On his wedding day, May 15, Ginther sent a letter to ArcelorMittal with a copy of the couple’s marriage license and a request to enroll Kineef as his dependent for medical benefits under the plan, according to the complaint.
"The plan has no definition of ‘spouse’ and does not exclude same-sex spouses from the definition of ‘dependent,’" the couple argues.
After corresponding with the UMR Eligibility Department, at the request of ArcelorMittal human resources, for about three months, Ginther was told by an "eligibility representative" that "according to ArcelorMittal, same-sex marriage is not covered under your insurance," the complaint says.
Ginther then pursued information on plan procedures and information on how to appeal the denial from UMR Eligibility and Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield, but hasn’t gotten responses, according to the complaint.
Similarly, he sent letters to the board of trustees of the Steelworkers Health and Welfare Fund and to the chairman of the board, but hasn’t gotten any responses, the couple alleges.
"Because Mr. Ginther has not been provided with a reasonable claims procedure consistent with the requirements of ERISA … he is deemed to have exhausted administrative remedies," according to the complaint.
The couple asks the court to add Kineef to Ginther’s health plan retroactively to June 1, 2012, order the board to pay the $110-per-day fine that ERISA assesses against administrators who fail to provide information to beneficiaries starting from October 29, 2012, and order the defendants to cover the cost of their attorney fees.
Basically, Ginther and Kineef are trying to have the plan enforced according to its terms, said their lawyer, Julie Wilensky of Lewis Feinberg Lee Renaker & Jackson in Oakland, Calif.
With states increasingly permitting same-sex marriage, the firm is hearing from more people in similar situations, Wilensky said. In some cases, provisions are written into benefit plans, but here, Ginther and Kineef are following the language of the plan, she said.
"ArcelorMittal learned of the lawsuit this morning, though, as of yet, neither a complaint nor summons has been served. We are currently reviewing the matter to determine next steps," according to a statement from the steelmaker.