Win for Baltimore Police

County cops win right to employee benefits for same-sex spouses

Lambda Legal announced today that Baltimore County must grant equal employment benefits to same-sex couples as a result of a binding arbitration decision. That decision came from grievances filed by Lambda and the Baltimore County police union on behalf of two officers who were refused benefits for their same-sex spouses.

Lambda and the Fraternal Order of Police filed grievances on behalf of Officers Margaret Selby and Juanika Ballard, who each married their spouse out-of-state, in Massachusetts and Connecticut, respectively. The two women had asked the County Police Department to add their spouses to their health coverage and were denied because their spouses were of the same-sex, and Maryland does not grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Following a February 2010 legal opinion by Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler (D), the state of Maryland recognizes legal, out-of-state, same-sex marriages. Lambda and the union held the position that because the state recognizes the officers’ marriages as valid, the county did not have the right to deny them spousal benefits.

According to Susan Sommer, Lambda Legal’s director of constitutional litigation, the collective bargaining agreement between the county and the police union granted spousal benefits to ”a spouse in a marriage recognized by the state.”

After Lambda and the union entered into binding arbitration with the county, arbitrator Lois Hochhauser found that denying spousal benefits to the police officers was discriminatory and contrary to the county’s agreements giving benefits to spouses legally recognized under Maryland law.

In a prepared statement, Sommer said she was pleased that Baltimore County would have to ”fulfill its obligation” to the police officers by granting them the same employee benefits and protections granted other officers. She also thanked the Fraternal Order of Police for standing up for the rights of two of its members.

”We believe the county tried to save themselves a few bucks by penny-pinching at the expense of these lesbian police officers,” Sommer later told Metro Weekly.

A spokeswoman for the county said its lawyers were still in the process of reviewing the decision, and declined to comment on the ruling.

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com