August 7, 2015
U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson has dismissed a class action lawsuit in which the Social Security Administration (SSA) was charged 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. GLAD, Justice in Aging, 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; then more than a year later, the agency 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 and the Obama administration can do better.”
The judge’s finding can be read here. The plaintiffs are considering their options for next steps, including appeal.