Oakland, CA. – U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson has dismissed a class action lawsuit charging the Social Security Administration (SSA) with discriminating against SSI recipients who are married to a person of the same sex. Social Security did not recognize the recipients’ marriages until more than a year after the fall of the Defense of Marriage Act with the Supreme Court ruling in U.S. v. Windsor in June 2013. Justice in Aging, Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), and Foley Hoag LLP filed Held v. Colvin in March 2015 in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
When SSA failed to implement the Windsor ruling, Hugh Held of Los Angeles (who is married to Orion Masters) and Kelley Richardson-Wright of Athol, MA (who is married to Kena Richardson-Wright) were erroneously paid benefits as though they were single for more than a year. The agency then demanded payments of thousands of dollars from the plaintiffs, who are disabled. According to the complaint filed in March, hundreds if not thousands of SSI recipients are in similar situations.
“The judge got this one wrong,” said Gerald McIntyre, Directing Attorney at Justice in Aging. “He fundamentally misunderstood Hugh’s and Kelley’s claims, and mistakenly believed that the harm incurred can be corrected through Social Security’s administrative process.”
Vickie L. Henry, Senior Staff Attorney at GLAD added, “This is a system-wide problem of the Social Security Administration unconstitutionally failing to recognize marriages after it was ordered to do so. This problem calls for a system-wide solution. Our clients and the proposed class are disabled or elderly and very poor. They do not need to be terrorized with an overpayment notice and then forced through Social Security’s long appeal process one at a time. SSA can do better.”
The judge’s finding can be read here. The plaintiffs are considering their options for next steps, including appeal.
Justice in Aging is a national non-profit legal advocacy organization that fights senior poverty through law. Formerly the National Senior Citizens Law Center, since 1972 we’ve worked for access to affordable health care and economic security for older adults with limited resources, focusing especially on populations that have traditionally lacked legal protection such as women, people of color, LGBT individuals, and people with limited English proficiency. Through targeted advocacy, litigation, and the trainings and resources we provide to local advocates, we ensure access to the social safety net programs that poor seniors depend on, including Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). For more information, visit our website at www.justiceinaging.org.
Contact: Vanessa Barrington