Windy City Media Group Frontpage News
Celebrating 30 Years of Gay Lesbian Bisexual and Trans News
home search facebook twitter join
Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2017-11-22
About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage



DOMA hearing held involving widow beneficiary case
by Carrie Maxwell, Windy City Times

facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

The motions for the interpleader action case (Cozen O'Connor, P.C. v. Jennifer J. Tobits, et al. and Estate of Sarah Ellyn Farley) involving a same-sex widow's pension plan proceeds were heard by Judge C. Darnell Jones II of the United States District Court, the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, March 12.

Sarah Ellyn Farley worked for six years as an attorney in the Chicago offices of Cozen O'Connor.

Tobits and Farley were married in 2006 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

In 2010, Farley died at the age of 37 from a rare form of cancer.

Cozen O'Connor filed a lawsuit claiming that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prevents them from recognizing Tobits as the beneficiary of Farley's pension-plan death benefits. Their argument says that DOMA applies to private companies as well as the federal government. The firm has asked the court to determine who should receive the death benefits, Tobits or Farley's parents.

Tobits then filed a breach of fiduciary duty counterclaim against Cozen O'Connor, alleging that if the firm did not intend to recognize same-sex spouses, it had a duty to inform Tobits of that fact. Tobits wants to be recognized as the legal surviving spouse and beneficiary of her late wife's pension plan proceeds.

Farley's parents are also challenging the legality of the couple's marriage under DOMA, saying that Cozen O'Connor's pension plan is Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA)-qualified. ERISA is a federal mandate, however, and does not define the word "spouse."

Farley's parents never approved of her daughter's sexual orientation nor her marriage to Tobits.

Tobits has already been appointed as administrator of her late wife's estate by an Illinois probate court. In the Illinois case, the court rejected the Farley's claim that their daughter was single, and ruled that Tobits and Farley were legally married and entitled to all the rights and protections given to spouses under state law.

Cozen O'Connor's pension plan states that a spouse is a person to whom an employee has been married for at least one year. The pension plan does not indicate that the same-sex spouses are excluded from participating. Additionally, the law firm has several offices in states where same-sex marriage is legal, and also has diversity and non-discrimination policies that include sexual orientation.

At the hearing, the court asked all of the involved parties to address the constitutionality of DOMA. Both the United States Department of Justice (DoJ) and the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) of the House of Representatives have intervened in the case and are also parties.

The DoJ, under President Obama's instructions, is no longer defending the constitutionality of DOMA.

BLAG, under the direction of Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, has convened to defend DOMA in the courts, and is doing so in this case.

The National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) and co-counsels Teresa Renaker and Julie Wilensky of Lewis, Feinberg, Lee, Renaker and Jackson, P.C.; and Benjamin L. Jerner, Tiffany Palmer and Rebecca Levin of Jerner and Palmer, P.C. represented Tobits in court.

H. Robert Fiebach of Cozen O'Connor's Philadelphia law office represented the firm in court while Thomas Brejcha and Peter Breen from the Thomas More Society, Randall L. Wenger from the Independence Law Center and Jonathan W. Michael from Burke, Warren, MacKay and Serritella, P.C. in Chicago are representing the Farleys.

During the hearing, which lasted more than four hours, Minter said, "An attorney from the U.S. DoJ appeared to argue that if DOMA applies in this case, then DOMA is unconstitutional and an attorney from BLAG argued in defense of DOMA."

The court also heard from Susan Katz Hoffman, an ERISA expert from Little Mendelson, who argued that DOMA does not prevent an employer from voluntarily providing benefits to a same-sex spouse, and that if an employer does not intend to do so, the employer must make that clear. Hoffman also wrote an amicus brief on behalf of the Human Rights Campaign, arguing that DOMA does not apply to this case.

"Judge Jones was very engaged and seemed to understand that Cozen's position, that DOMA prohibits private employers from recognizing same-sex spouses, would unsettle thousands of existing private pension plans," said Minter.

"We hope the judge rules that DOMA does not apply to private benefit plans and that Cozen O'Connor must give Farley's death benefit to Tobits, as required by the plain language of the plan," said Minter, adding, "The U.S. DoJ agrees that DOMA does not apply to private employers, and is also arguing that if the judge holds that DOMA applies here, then DOMA violates the equal protection clause of the federal constitution and should be struck down. We strongly agree that if DOMA applies, it is blatantly unconstitutional and should be struck."

If the court decides that DOMA applies to a private companies' (Cozen O'Connor) benefit plan and awards the benefits to the Farley's the ruling will extend DOMA to non-governmental actors. Currently, DOMA defines the terms "spouse" and "marriage" only in federal laws and regulations.

A ruling in this case is still pending and may not be handed down for a number of months.

facebook twitter pin it google +1 reddit email

Windy City Media Group does not approve or necessarily agree with the views posted below.
Please do not post letters to the editor here. Please also be civil in your dialogue.
If you need to be mean, just know that the longer you stay on this page, the more you help us.


Gay News

Australians approve marriage equality 2017-11-15 - Australia has voted to change the definition of marriage to include same-sex couples in results announced Nov. 15, with 61.6 percent of the ...

Gay News

WNBA player marries in 'Dream Wedding' 2017-11-15 - The online wedding brand The Knot hosted a wedding for Olympic gold medalist and 2015 WNBA MVP Elena Delle Donne and fiancee Amanda ...

Gay News

Marriage Equality USA publishes The People's Victory 2017-11-13 - New York, NY - Marriage Equality USA ( MEUSA ) announces the release of an inspiring new book of essays showcasing the organization's ...

Gay News

Supreme Court to look at Masterpiece Cake v. Colorado and, in a way, marriage 2017-10-31 - In just a little over a month, the big bronze doors of the U. S. Supreme Court building will swing open as a ...

Gay News

WEDDINGS Yospin-Valentour 2017-10-11 - Marcia Yospin and Erin Valentour were married July 15 in the Crystal ballroom in Evanston. Photo of Yospin ( left ) and ...

Gay News

Statement from President Obama on the Passing of Edith Windsor 2017-09-12 - America's long journey towards equality has been guided by countless small acts of persistence, and fueled by the stubborn willingness of quiet heroes ...

Gay News

World news: Australia and marriage, gay journalist, Pakistani bill 2017-08-15 - Former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott's decision to come out opposing same-sex marriage is not going down well with his own sister, PinkNews ...

Gay News

German president OKs marriage law 2017-07-21 - German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has signed legislation legalizing same-sex marriage, allowing the bill to take effect this fall. Lawmakers approved the bill ...

Gay News

Singapore Voids Marriage of Trans Woman And Her Wife 2017-07-18 - As The Straits Times has reported on July 18th, the Registry of Marriages ( "the Registry" ) has voided the marriage of a ...

Gay News

WORLD NEWS Marriage in Australia, Amsterdam reception, HIV controversy 2017-07-18 - Australian Senator Dean Smith confirmed that he is drafting a bill to legalize same-sex marriage in Australia, Gay Times Magazine reported. Many parliament ...


Copyright © 2017 Windy City Media Group. All rights reserved.
Reprint by permission only. PDFs for back issues are downloadable from
our online archives. Single copies of back issues in print form are
available for $4 per issue, older than one month for $6 if available,
by check to the mailing address listed below.

Return postage must accompany all manuscripts, drawings, and
photographs submitted if they are to be returned, and no
responsibility may be assumed for unsolicited materials.
All rights to letters, art and photos sent to Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago
Gay and Lesbian News and Feature Publication) will be treated
as unconditionally assigned for publication purposes and as such,
subject to editing and comment. The opinions expressed by the
columnists, cartoonists, letter writers, and commentators are
their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of Nightspots
(Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay,
Lesbian, Bisexual and Transegender News and Feature Publication).

The appearance of a name, image or photo of a person or group in
Nightspots (Chicago GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times
(a Chicago Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender News and Feature
Publication) does not indicate the sexual orientation of such
individuals or groups. While we encourage readers to support the
advertisers who make this newspaper possible, Nightspots (Chicago
GLBT Nightlife News) and Windy City Times (a Chicago Gay, Lesbian
News and Feature Publication) cannot accept responsibility for
any advertising claims or promotions.








About WCMG Publications News Index  Entertainment Features Bars & Clubs Calendar Videos Advertisers OUT! Guide    Marriage

About WCMG      Contact Us      Online Front  Page      Windy City  Times      Nightspots      OUT! Guide     
Identity      BLACKlines      En La Vida      Archives      Subscriptions      Distribution      Windy City Queercast     
Queercast Archives      Advertising  Rates      Deadlines      Advanced Search     
Press  Releases      Event Photos      Join WCMG  Email List      Email Blast     
Upcoming Events      Todays Events      Ongoing Events      Post an Event      Bar Guide      Community Groups      In Memoriam      Outguide Categories      Outguide Advertisers      Search Outguide      Travel      Dining Out      Blogs      Spotlight  Video     
Classifieds      Real Estate      Place a  Classified     

Windy City Media Group produces Windy City Queercast, & publishes Windy City Times,
The Weekly Voice of the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Trans Community,
Nightspots, Out! Resource Guide, and Identity.
5315 N. Clark St. #192, Chicago, IL 60640-2113 • PH (773) 871-7610 • FAX (773) 871-7609.