Brookdale Senior Living is addressing a complaint made to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission by an employee who says she was illegally denied health benefits for her wife.
Kerry Considine is a physical therapist at one of the senior living provider’s communities in West Hartford, Conn. After getting married in November 2013, Considine says that Brookdale denied her attempt to add her wife to her health insurance plan. She filed the complaint with the EEOC on Jan. 17.
Brookdale is headquartered in Tennessee, where same sex unions are not recognized. The company allegedly told told Considine it does not offer benefits to same-sex couples, even though gay marriage is legal in Connecticut.
The company is working to address the complaint, according to a statement provided to SHN by Brookdale spokeswoman Julie Davis.
“We are in the process of revising our corporate-wide health insurance program to include spousal coverage for any marriage or civil union recognized by state law,” says the statement, which notes that Brookdale currently offers a health plan option in California that allows for same-sex spousal coverage. “We expect to make this change and offer this coverage within the next 60 days. We are pleased that we are able to extend the treatment of same-sex spouses available in California across the country.”
An Associated Press article says Considine’s lawyer expects the EEOC will bring the complaint before the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities.
“[I]n general, any company with a presence in Connecticut, where gay marriage is legal, cannot discriminate in providing benefits based on sexual orientation,” a spokesman for the Commission told the AP.
Jeanne Goldberg, a senior attorney advisor for the EEOC, told the AP there’s not much precedent for the issue at hand.
“We are not aware of any court decisions yet on whether it violates Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination in benefits for an employer to engage in disparate treatment of married employees based on the sex of their spouse (i.e., providing a benefit only to those employees in opposite-sex legal marriages but not those in same-sex legal marriages), and the Commission has not issued policy guidance on this question,” Goldberg said in a written statement.
Brookdale said it “regularly” considers appropriate health insurance coverage for its employees based on costs and benefits to employees and shareholders.
“We want to thank our associate for bringing this matter to our attention and to remind all of our associates of our open door policy that is in place to foster trust and dialogue, and to resolve concerns,” it said in the statement. “We have always been committed to working together as one team and acting in a way that demonstrates respect for others through honesty, understanding and trust. Our culture values all of our associates, and we are grateful for all they do each day to serve our residents.”
Written by Alyssa Gerace