300 Employers Urge SCOTUS to Declare DOMA Unconstitutional

Jim Burroway

February 27th, 2013

More than 200 businesses, a couple score of law firms, sixteen civic, professional and trade groups, seventeen cities and counties and the United States Conference of mayors — the short list of signatories runs six pages alone — have signed on to an Amicus brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to declare Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. The brief, filed in support of Edith Windsor in Windsor v. U.S. (which is now available online), argues that DOMA “impairs employer/employee relations and other business interests”:

Federal law provides to the working family many benefits and protections relating to health care, pro-tected leave, and retirement. These protections provide security and support to an employee grappling with sickness, disability, childcare, family crisis, or retirement, allowing the employee to devote more focus and attention to his work.

DOMA thwarts these employee expectations, to the direct detriment of some married employees of amici , and, by extension, of amici ourselves. As set forth below, DOMA forces amici to consider the gender of the spouses of our lawfully married employees when determining the scope and manner of benefits that may be extended to those spouses (and the chil-dren of those spouses). DOMA enforces discriminatory tax treatment of spousal retirement and health care benefits. In many other benefit-related matters,amici may incur the cost and administrative burden of “workarounds” (employer-created benefit structures attempting to compensate for the discriminatory effects of DOMA), or leave the married workforce in separate castes.

Having states recognizing same-sex marriages while the Federal government willfully ignores those legal marriage produces a costly burden to employers:

These dual regimes have spawned an industry of costly compliance specialists. Some amici have had to pay vendors to reprogram benefits and payroll systems, to add coding to reconcile different tax and benefit treatments, to reconfigure at every benefit and coverage level, and to revisit all of these modifications with every change in tax or ERISA laws for potential DOMA impact. Attorneys and ERISA advisors must be consulted. Human resources, benefits,and payroll personnel must be trained and retrained as tax or ERISA laws change. Plan documents, enrollment forms, and administrative procedures must be scoured for the word “spouse,” and amendments and disclosures drafted to try to explain the numerous implications and consequences of a given benefits decision on the personal tax situation of an employee with a same-sex spouse. Enrollment systems must be reprogrammed to account for different spousal circumstances, and linked to provider records to ensure the providers extend appropriate coverage. Benefits and human resources departments, facing questions from employees with same-sex spouses regarding workplace benefit selections and coverage, must be adequately trained and prepared to explain the disparate treatment to employees who may later realize (perhaps too late) that their benefits choices and decisions carried unanticipated and significant financial implications. The complexity and uncertainty saps critical time, focus, and energy from the human resources and benefits administration function.

The second part of the brief goes the heart of the matter, that DOMA forces employers to “become the face of its mandate that two separate castes of married persons be identified and separately treated.”:

In the modern workplace, the employer becomes the face of DOMA’s discriminatory treatment, and is placed in the role of intrusive inquisitor, imputer of taxable income, and withholder of benefits. The employer is thus forced by DOMA to participate in the injury of its own workforce morale. Yale University’s error in administering DOMA, and its implementation of unexpected tax withholding against employees married to same-sex spouses in 2011, cast the university as the antagonist to its own employees. Many amici, as employers, provide certain workarounds that attempt to address some of the disparate treatment of same-sex couples that DOMA requires. Many amici that are cities and counties have gone even farther, making substantial efforts to prevent discrimination against same-sex couples, up to and including passing anti-discrimination ordinances and amending city charters to outlaw discrimination against same-sex couples. Administering and implementing DOMA subverts efforts to eliminate obstacles to full legal recognition for employees who have lawfully entered into committed relationships with persons of the same sex.

…For many employers, DOMA does violence to the morale of the institution itself. Like other persons, legal and natural, amici are motivated by core principles. As of December 2012, 88% of Fortune 500 companies provided nondiscrimination protection for their gay and lesbian employees. …These principles spring from hard experience. Our organizations are engaged in national and international competition — for talent, customers, and business. That competition demands teamwork, and teamwork thrives when the organization minimizes distracting differences, and focuses on a common mission. DOMA’s core mandate — that we single out some of our married colleagues and treat them as a lesser class — upsets this imperative.

Our principles are not platitudes. Our mission statements are not simply plaques in the lobby. Statements of principle are our agenda for success: born of experience, tested in laboratory, factory, and office, attuned to competition. Our principles reflect, in the truest sense, our business judgment. By force of law, DOMA rescinds that judgment and directs that we renounce these principles or, worse yet, betray them.

Earlier today, it was announced that more than sixty businesses have submitted a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court urging it to declare California’s Prop 8 unconstitutional. While I haven’t been able to find the full text of that brief, it appears that at least some of the arguments made there are repeated here. That brief argued that Prop 8 “leave(s) companies in the untenable position of being compelled implicitly to endorse the second-class status to which their gay and lesbian employees, clients, customers, and business associates are relegated. …Until the law no longer relegates same-sex couples to second-class status as inferior “domestic partnerships,” our adherence to the law compels us to abide by a distinction that stigmatizes and dehumanizes gay men and lesbians.”

Signatories to the Windsor brief includes many of America’s top companies and brands, including Aetna, Alaska Airlines, Amazon.com, AIG, Apple, A|X Armani Exchange, BNY Mellon, Bankers Trust, BlackRock, Caesars Entertainment, CBS, Cisco, Citigroup, The Corcoran Group, Coupons.com, Deutche Bank, eBay, Earnst & Young, Facebook, Goldman Sachs, Google, Horizon Air, Intel, Intuit, JetBlue, the Jim Henson Company, Johnson & Johnson, Levi Strauss, Liberty Mutual, Marriot International, Mars, McGraw-Hill, Microsoft, Moody’s, Morgan Stanley, New York Life, Nike, Oracle, Orbitz, Pfizer, Qualcomm, REI, salesforce.com, Starbucks, Thomson Reuters, Twitter, Viacom, Walt Disney, and Xerox. That is just a short list of the big names. There are about 300 more. I look forward to the American Family Association’s next boycott announcement.

Jeff

February 27th, 2013

Conspicuously absent: The Association for Computing Machinery. Given that “[Edith Windsor] eventually became a highly successful computer programmer at IBM, achieving the highest technical rank at the company”, the horrendous treatment of Alan Turing and the prevalence of LGBT people in computer science you’d think they could manage to at least sign-on.

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