Judge Formally Blocks MA Benefits Discrimination Probe

August 7, 2007 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - A Boston federal judge has issued an injunction blocking an investigation by the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) into whether an employer illegally restricted health benefits to same-sex domestic partners of employees.

U.S. District Judge Joseph L. Tauro of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts said that even though MCAD could not conduct a probe into whether Partners Healthcare System violated Massachusetts law in its benefits policy, the agency could still focus on any benefits the company provided not covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

Partners operates hospitals and other health care agencies in Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New Hampshire.

In June, Tauro ruled that Massachusetts’s anti-discrimination law as it would be applied to Partners’ health plans was “facially conclusively” preempted by ERISA and refused MCAD’s request that he not rule on the issue at all (See  Court Blocks MA Benefits Discrimination Inquiry ).   

In Tauro’s latest ruling, he pushed aside MCAD’s argument that Partners engaged in associational sex discrimination by providing benefits to same-sex domestic partners, regardless of their sexual orientation.

According to the court, Partners’ benefits are available to unmarried same-sex domestic partners of employees, but not to unmarried heterosexual domestic partners.

Jason Webster, a Partners employee who is heterosexual, filed a charge of discrimination with MCAD in July 2005, alleging that Partners discriminated against him and other unmarried heterosexual employees, in violation of state law.

The case is Partners Healthcare System Inc. v. Sullivan, D. Mass., No. 06-11436-JLT, 7/31/07.