Metro Weekly

Lesbian couple files federal lawsuit after employer denies health care coverage

Cherry Creek Mortgage Co. may use Hobby Lobby "religious freedom" decision to justify denial of coverage

Martinez (center left) and Dominguez (center right) – Photo: NBC4 Southern California.

A lesbian couple from California has filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against one of the women’s former employer and its health insurer for refusing to provide the same spousal health insurance benefits that they would have granted to a heterosexual couple.

Judith Dominguez, a former employee of Colorado-based Cherry Creek Mortgage Co., and Patricia Martinez, her wife and partner of 29 years, accuse Cherry Creek and UnitedHealth Group of violating their rights under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination based on sex, reports NBC Southern California. They maintain that they have experienced sex discrimination because the company refused to provide coverage for Martinez that she otherwise would have been entitled to had she been a man.

According to the official complaint, Cherry Creek told Dominguez in December that they would no longer offer spousal health care benefits to Martinez because their company only recognizes marriages between a man and a woman.

“The federal government and Supreme Court has said we’re married, that our marriage is no less than any other,” Dominguez said in a press conference. ” The fact that they’re putting my wife’s health at risk by doing this is what made us do what we’re doing.”

Dominguez claims that Cherry Creek tried to retroactively retract the spousal benefits it had granted the couple since March 2016 — which left them having to foot the bill for tens of thousands of dollars in follow-up care to treat Martinez for two heart attacks she suffered in 2015.

Dominguez says that when she filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Cherry Creek retaliated against her, moving her to another branch office and later firing her. She also alleges that even after she was fired, the company continued to use her name and photograph on its website, ostensibly to appeal to Latino customers, the Los Angeles Times reports.

An attorney for Cherry Creek told the Times that the company does not comment on pending litigation. UnitedHealthcare has not commented on the case.

Cherry Creek was one of the companies that was victorious in the Hobby Lobby Supreme Court case that found employers do not have to provide insurance coverage for contraception in violation of their religious or moral beliefs. Since that decision was handed down, LGBTQ advocates have warned that those advocating for “religious freedom” laws — including the current Department of Justice — will attempt to apply the Hobby Lobby precedent to launch an assault on LGBTQ rights.

Nonetheless, Dan Stormer, the couple’s lawyer, says he feels confident about his chances in court, telling NBC Southern California: “I think that the circumstances are dramatically different. I do not see that [Cherry Creek] could prevail on a Hobby Lobby claim.”

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

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