SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Nation/World

November 25, 2012

Benefits fight brings lesbian couple to high court

(Continued)

For Golinski and Cunninghis, getting this far has been a long, sometimes frustrating and sometimes heartening journey.

Citing the act, known as DOMA, the Office of Personnel Management, the federal government’s human relations arm, initially denied Golinski’s attempt to enroll Cunninghis in the medical coverage she had selected for herself and the couple’s son, now 10.

“I got a phone call from OPM in Washington, D.C., asking me to confirm that Amy Cunninghis was female, and I said, ‘Yes, she is,’ and they said, ‘We won’t be able to add her to your health plan,” Golinski recalled.

Golinski knew that her employer, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, had a policy prohibiting discrimination against gay workers, so she filed an employee grievance and won a hearing before the court’s dispute resolution officer, Chief Judge Alex Kozinski.

As a lawyer for the court, she felt awkward about pursuing the issue, but she was also angry. Lambda Legal and a San Francisco law firm offered to represent her.

“I had been working for the courts since 1990, and I feel, like everybody, I work hard and I’m a valuable employee, and I’m not getting paid the same amount if I have to pay for a whole separate plan for Amy,” she said. “It was really hurting our family.”

Kozinski ruled that Golinski was entitled to full spousal benefits, but federal officials ordered Golinski’s insurer not to process her application, prompting the chief judge to issue a scathing opinion on her behalf.

After the government refused to budge, Golinski sued in January 2010.

The couple had joked about whether they “would make a federal case” out of their situation. Cunninghis noted that their genders would not have been an issue had Golinski worked in the private sector or in state or local government where domestic partnerships are offered.

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