Courts & Crime

Appeals court rules same-sex couple must be repaid after denial of benefits

A judge ruled Wednesday an assistant federal public defender's spouse must be compensated for health care benefits withheld since July 2008 because the couple are gay.

Stephen Reinhardt, a member of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, also reminded the bureaucracy that he decreed nine months ago in the same case that withholding benefits based on sexual orientation violates the U.S. Constitution's due process guarantee and the circuit's employment dispute resolution plan for federal public defenders and their staffs.

In that Feb. 2 order, Reinhardt directed the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts to process Assistant Federal Defender Brad Levenson's request to include his husband, Tony Sears, on his medical, dental and vision coverage.

In the face of that order, the Office of Personnel Management intervened to prevent Sears' enrollment.

Levenson returned to Reinhardt asking that the government be ordered to provide Sears with comparable coverage by private insurers or fork over his spouse's costs under the federal Back Pay Act.

Reinhardt found in Wednesday's 25-page order that Sears was "wrongfully denied benefits … by an unjustified or unwarranted personnel action," and ordered the federal defender in Los Angeles, where Levenson works, to "compute the amount due to date" and secure reimbursement.

If the bureaucracy continues to block Sears' enrollment, the judge ordered the federal defender to decide whether future reimbursements "shall be paid on a monthly, quarterly, or other basis."

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