Oakland, CA.—Today, Justice in Aging, along with Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), and Foley Hoag LLP appealed a district court’s cursory dismissal of a class action lawsuit seeking to stop the Social Security Administration’s (SSA) demands to recover overpayments from a group of SSI recipients married to a person of the same sex. The suit charges that the administration discriminated against married SSI recipients in calculating their SSI benefits for more than a year after the Supreme Court ruling struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in U.S. v. Windsor in June 2013.
Despite notifying SSA of their legal marriages, Plaintiffs 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 paid benefits as though they were single for more than a year after DOMA was struck down. The agency then demanded payments of thousands of dollars from the plaintiffs, causing extreme fear.
The judge dismissed the case on the ground that affected Plaintiffs should seek recourse from SSA individually through the multi-year administrative appeal process. There are likely hundreds of people affected by this policy who are poor, and elderly or disabled.
“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, “We continue to hear from recipients who are terrorized by overpayment notices, and we want to help them. This is a system-wide problem of the Social Security Administration unconstitutionally failing to recognize marriages after it was ordered to do so, and it 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 forced through Social Security’s long appeal process one at a time. SSA can do better.”
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.
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Contact: Vanessa Barrington