WASHINGTON STATE SAME-SEX MARRIED COUPLES SUE BNSF RAILWAY CO. FOR SPOUSE’S HEALTH CARE COVERAGE
Seattle attorneys Cleveland Stockmeyer and Duncan Turner today are filing a lawsuit in Federal Court in Seattle on behalf of a gay married couple, Michael Hall and Elijah Hall Uber, and a lesbian married couple, Amie Garrand and Carol Garrand. The suit charges BNSF Railway Co. with discrimination by denying each couple their spouse’s health insurance coverage. BNSF told both couples “marriage is one man and one woman.” The couples are suing for themselves and for all other employees similarly situated who are in legal same-sex marriages and whose spousal health insurance benefits are denied by BNSF. This could include employees in CA, MN, IL, IA, and NM in addition to Washington State.
Cleveland Stockmeyer explained the suit is being filed under the Equal Pay Act. “BNSF routinely covers spousal benefits for opposite-sex married couples” he said. “They would cover Eli’s health care costs if Michael were female. They are denying Michael this benefit he earned as a BNSF engineer just because he is male and not female. This is discrimination and it’s illegal,” Stockmeyer explained. “We are suing to make BNSF stop it.”
Michael Hall is a BNSF locomotive engineer who hauls freight on mile-long freight trains he drives from Auburn to Yakima and Pasco, back to Vancouver and up to Seattle. He legally married his husband in Washington State on January 21, 2013. After the marriage, Hall sent BNSF his marriage certificate and asked for health care coverage for his legal spouse, Elijah. The railroad’s refusal to cover Elijah’s medical insurance deprives the married male couple of $2400 a month in coverage of medication costs.
In repeated contacts and calls the Halls were hung up on. After contacting the BNSF CEO via e mail, demanding the illegal discrimination stop, the couple received a threatening phone call from a BNSF manager warning that if they wanted to take on the railroad, it would be a “long and bumpy” fight.
Amie Garrand is the other BNSF employee in the lawsuit. BNSF is also refusing to cover her wife Carol’s health care insurance costs. The Garrands were married in Washington State this year. Amie is a conductor living in Vancouver, Washington driving throughout the southwestern part of the state.
“BNSF has no business overriding the vote we had here to make same sex marriage legal,” Stockmeyer said. “Who are they to judge? BNSF should stick to running railroads and stop telling gays or lesbian couples who are legally married that they are not.”
Equal Rights Washington led the fight for marriage equality in Washington State. Equal Rights Washington Board Chair, Monisha Harrell, said the Washington State LGBT civil rights advocacy organization is supportive of the suit because it clearly illustrates that even though same-sex couples are free to marry in Washington State, not all married Washingtonians are being treated equally under the law. “Hopefully, one day our rights won’t be doled out on a case-by-case basis. Until then, we will continue to fight for equal rights for all.”
Eli Hall Uber said, “Marriage isn’t just one man one woman anymore. My marriage to Mikey is legal and it is marriage. Who is BNSF to say we’re not married -- that’s discrimination, plain and simple, just because Mikey isn’t a woman. He’s a man and I am his husband -- legally and in my heart. Who is BNSF to deny our marriage?”