After Health Care Denial, Gay Couple Suing Mortgage Company

"The federal government and Supreme Court has said we're married, that our marriage is no less than any other"

A lesbian couple from the San Gabriel Valley filed a federal discrimination complaint Thursday against the wife's former employer and its health insurer for allegedly refusing to provide spousal health insurance coverage on an equal basis to heterosexual employees.

Judith Dominguez, a former employee of Cherry Creek Mortgage Co., and Patricia Martinez, her wife and partner of 29 years, contend the mortgage brokerage and UnitedHealth Group are violating federal laws prohibiting discrimination based on sex, including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the Affordable Care Act, according to the lawsuit filed in Los Angeles.

Representatives for Colorado-based Cherry Creek Mortgage and UnitedHealth Group in Minneapolis could not immediately be reached for comment.

According to the suit, Cherry Creek told Dominguez in December that the company would no longer offer spousal health care benefits to Martinez, showing Dominguez a policy statement that said the mortgage company only recognizes marriages between a man and a woman.

"The federal government and Supreme Court has said we're married, that our marriage is no less than any other," Dominguez said at a press conference. "The fact that they're putting my wife's health at risk by doing this is what made us do what we're doing."

Dominguez alleges the brokerage was retroactively retracting spousal health insurance coverage for her wife for the prior year -- leaving the couple faced with tens of thousands of dollars in unexpected charges for care after Martinez's two heart attacks in 2015.

When the Alhambra couple complained, Cherry Creek fired Dominguez, the suit alleges.

"The judge who married us said it was an honor to perform our ceremony," Martinez said. "He told us, `Now you are family.' Cherry Creek doesn't have the right to rip that apart. They can't take our rights away from us."

The couple and their supporters say they think some companies feel more emboldened under President Donald Trump to violate civil rights laws.

The mortgage brokerage claims it does not have to provide health insurance benefits to spouses of LGBT employees -- yet it markets its mortgage products to same-sex couples, and required Dominguez to attend a mandatory training for selling mortgages to same-sex couples, according to the complaint.

Cherry Creek is one of the companies that won the landmark Hobby Lobby case in which the Supreme Court ruled that family-owned companies had the religious freedom to deny contraception coverage. Some believe that ruling may now extend to issues like same-sex marriage. 

"I feel a little scared, a little insecure that I won't have the government standing behind me," Martinez said.

But the couple's lawyer, Dan Stormer, feels confident of their chances in court. "I think that the circumstances are dramatically different. I do not see that (Cherry Creek) could prevail on a Hobby Lobby claim."

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