In a positively surprising ruling, a federal Court refused to dismiss a hearing where FedEx denied survivor benefits to a same-sex spouse. The Plaintiff is Stacy Schuett and she was in a committed relationship for 27 years with her spouse when they were finally married in a civil ceremony in Sonoma County in June of 2013. A day later, her wife, Lesly Taboada-Hall passed away after a long struggle with cancer. The deceased wife worked for FedEx for 26 years and was fully vested in her company’s retirement plan. It was not until six days after her death that same-sex marriage licenses were available in the state of California. At this time, the surviving spouse, Stacy Schuett, submitted a claim as a surviving spouse entitling her to her deceased wife’s pension plan, but FedEx immediately denied her claim because they said she did not meet the definition of “spouse.”
At that time, Stacy Schuett, the surviving spouse, filed a suit against FedEx in January 2014 asserting a claim for benefits under ERISA (Employee Retirement Income Security Act) and two claims for breach of fiduciary duty under the act for failure of FedEx to adhere to the new laws regarding same-sex marriage.
On Monday, January 4, 2016, U.S. District Judge Phyllis Hamilton issued a 19-page ruling (access here) which states in relevant part that Shuett had a valid claim when it came to ERISA. According to the ruling, FedEx abused its discretion in failing to view the couple’s marriage as legal because the marriage was granted retroactively. Therefore, Schuett is eligible to receive benefits under her wife’s pension.
This is a huge victory for same-sex couples that have previously been unable to be protected by their spouse’s survivor benefits due to the previous invalidity of same-sex marriage.
Should you have any questions regarding same-sex marriage prenuptial agreements, postnuptial agreements and/or same-sex divorces, please contact us at 214-692-8200.