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UPS complies with NJ civil unions law — will offer partner benefits to gay employees

The pressure worked. United Parcel Service, urged by New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine in a letter last week to extend benefits to partners of employees, will now recognize the state’s civil union law, which declares CUs are entitled to equal recognition under the law as civil marriage.

As you will see below, UPS wanted to extend the benefits, but the company read the law as preventing the company from doing so. From Lambda Legal:

“We are pleased to see that UPS has decided to do the right thing in the end and provide benefits to the same-sex civil union partners and families of its employees in New Jersey,” said David S. Buckel, Marriage Project Director of Lambda Legal and the attorney who represented the UPS employees. “In a statement, UPS’s Senior Vice President of Human Resources said ‘Based on initial legal review when this law was enacted, it did not appear that a “civil union” and “marriage” were equivalent.’ UPS is joined by hundreds of employers around the state in hearing that civil unions are different from marriage and that is to be expected when people are given second-class status.  The consequences to such ongoing mistakes are severe, and rather than going employer to employer and explaining civil unions one by one, the legislature has a quick fix: allowing same-sex couples to marry.

In May of this year, Gabriael “Nickie” Brazier, who is a driver for UPS who requested to have her civil union spouse, Heather Aurand, added to UPS’s benefit plan so that the couple would not have to continue paying for a second, inferior, health insurance plan for Heather and could stop paying down a second yearly deductible.  UPS responded with a letter outlining why it was denying spousal benefits to Brazier and Aurand, saying, “In summary, you cannot add Ms. Aurand as a spouse because New Jersey law does not treat civil unions the same as marriages,[emphasis added] and the Plan requires a dependent spouse to be a spouse as defined under applicable state law.”  Aurand is a stay-at-home parent who is raising the couple’s three children.  The couple has been together for over seven years. 

Tom Walton, 42 is also a UPS driver who asked to have his civil union spouse and partner of 15 years with, Mearmon Davis, 44, added to his healthcare plan and was denied as well, but following advocacy by Lambda Legal and a letter from Governor John Corzine, was advised he could now add Davis to his benefit plan. 

As I said in my earlier post on this issue, when the legislature was forced by the state Supreme Court to ensure that gay and lesbian couples received equality under the law as married couples, it decided to create a “separate but equal” civil unions rather than open civil marriage to same-sex couples. However, that structure prevents the use of the word “spouse,” which companies are using to deny benefits because that term is legally reserved for married couples.

For presidential candidates clinging onto civil unions as a panacea to the “problem” of the demand for marriage equality, they need look no further than the Garden State to see that there will be a legal quagmire from day one.

* NJ: Civil unions are a separate and unequal failure

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Pam Spaulding

Pam Spaulding