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New York Teamsters Fund denies benefits to same-sex spouse of twenty-seven year veteran employee

(SYRACUSE, NY) — Yesterday, Lambda Legal filed an internal appeal to the New York State Teamsters Council Health and Hospital Fund on behalf of Jackie Zacharewski because the Teamsters Fund denied Ms. Zacahrewski's request for spousal health benefits, refusing to recognize her legal marriage to Marylou Dalton-Zacharewski.

"Under New York’s rule recognizing out-of-state marriages, Jackie and Marylou are legal spouses; the New York State Teamsters Benefit Fund is ignoring its obligation to its long-time member and leaving this family vulnerable." said Natalie Chin, Lambda Legal Staff Attorney. "Ms. Zacherewski's health plan says her legal wife gets coverage. The Teamsters Fund is giving one of their own a raw deal by now claiming they don't have to cover her spouse."

After marrying her partner of 16 years in April 2009 in Connecticut, where same-sex couples may legally wed, Jackie Zacharewski filed a request with her union's health benefit plan, the New York State Teamsters Council Health and Hospital Fund, to add Ms. Dalton-Zacharewski to her health care coverage. The Fund's Executive Administrator, Kenneth Stilwell, informed Ms. Zacharewski that her request was denied because the Fund "does not provide spousal coverage for same-sex marriages."

In the internal appeal, Lambda Legal asserts that the Teamsters Fund impermissibly denied spousal health benefits and breached its contractual obligations to Ms. Zacharewski by failing to respect the couple’s Connecticut marriage under New York’s longstanding marriage recognition rule. In a recent Lambda Legal victory before the New York State Court of Appeals, the Court ruled that the government could extend health insurance coverage to same-sex spouses and upheld the actions of the Department of Civil Service that has offered benefits to domestic partners since the mid-1990s. Neither the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) nor the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) supersedes the Fund’s definition of marriage—a definition that makes Ms. Zacharewski’s wife eligible for spousal benefits.

Jackie Zacharewski is a delivery truck driver with Hostess Brands, Inc. and has been a loyal Teamsters member for 27 years. She and her wife, Marylou Dalton-Zacharewski, are raising a fourteen-year-old daughter together. Jackie Zacharewski said, "For almost 30 years I’ve worked hard at the same company and I've been loyal to the Teamsters. I've paid my dues, and now I want to make sure that I can protect my family."

"We will fight for Jackie Zacharewski as a member of the Teamsters," added Chin, "but every married same-sex couple shouldn’t need a lawyer to secure the same protections their co-workers have. Until the State Senate votes for marriage equality, families like the Zacharewskis will continue to be vulnerable to discrimination."