Judge rules on motions in FedEx same-sex spouse pension case


A US District Court Judge has allowed a pension benefits claim brought by the same-sex widow of a FedEx employee to proceed while dismissing two other claims by the plaintiff.

The plaintiff, Stacey Schuett, was in a committed relationship with Lesly Taboada-Hall for 27 years. They married in a civil ceremony on 19 June 2013, before licenses for marriages between same-sex couples were available in California.

Taboada-Hall worked for FedEx for 26 years and was part of the organisation’s defined benefit pension plan. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2010 and took medical leave of absence in 2012 before passing away on 20 June 2013.

The FedEx pension plan defined spouse as a person of the opposite sex according to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). This act was declared unconstitutional on 26 June 2013.

In the case of Stacey Schuett v. FedEx Corporation et. al., the plaintiff brought three claims against FedEx. The first sought payment of surviving spouse benefits under the pension plan, a claim that has been dismissed by the court on the basis that the plaintiff did not allege facts sufficient to show that FedEx abused its discretion in interpreting the pension plan as barring the plaintiff’s eligibility for survivor benefits as of the date of Taboada-Hall’s death.

The second claim, which seeks equitable relief including payment of surviving spouse benefits for breach of fiduciary duty, has been allowed to proceed.

The third cause of action, in which the plaintiff seeks equitable remedy in the form of payment of non-spousal survivor benefits based on breach of fiduciary duty for failure to disclose information, has been denied.

Amy Whelan, senior staff attorney at the National Centre for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), one of the bodies representing Schuett, said: “Organisations that claim to support diversity should be celebrating the downfall of DOMA, not trying to resurrect it for widows of FedEx employees who are fighting to receive the basic benefits their spouses earned during decades of service to the organisation.”

A FedEx spokesperson added: “”The court has dismissed two of Ms Schuett’s three claims. We are reviewing the court’s ruling on the remaining claim and will consider our options on that portion of the decision.”