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Despite Fall of DOMA, Bayer Corporation Continues to Deny Pension Benefits to CT Gay Widower

Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) has filed a lawsuit against Pittsburgh-based Bayer Corporation on behalf of Gerald Passaro of Milford, Connecticut, whose late husband, Thomas Buckholz, was a chemist with the company for more than 20 years.  Bayer has denied Passaro spousal survivor benefits to which he is entitled, based upon the vested service of his husband.

In 2009, when Jerry originally requested that Bayer provide him benefits as Tom’s surviving spouse, Bayer cited the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as the only reason it would not provide him with benefits. Jerry became one of 13 plaintiffs in the lawsuit Pedersen v. Office of Personnel Management, which was filed in 2010 to challenge DOMA and in which the federal district court in Connecticut ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor in 2012.

In June 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States found DOMA unconstitutional in deciding the case Windsor v. U.S.; and the Pedersen victory was confirmed as well.

With DOMA wiped from the statute books as if it never existed, Jerry asked again for his spousal pension benefits.  Bayer again said no.  “Despite the fact that DOMA has been found unconstitutional, Bayer continues to deny benefits to Jerry even though its pension plan provides benefits to all surviving spouses and even though federal law (ERISA) mandates pension benefits for surviving spouses under plans like Bayer’s,” said Gary Buseck, Interim Executive Director of GLAD, who is representing Passaro. “Bayer has turned a deaf ear to its legal and moral obligation to the widower of a dedicated employee, who is in need of this basic support that his husband earned.”

Thomas Buckholz and Jerry Passaro were married on November 26, 2008, in their home, when Tom was already seriously ill with lymphoma.  They had been together for 13 years.  Tom died two months after the wedding.  Prior to his death, he believed he had received assurances that Jerry would be the beneficiary of his pension.  But Bayer has refused to acknowledge any obligation to this day.

GLAD filed a civil action on Jerry’s behalf in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut on May 12, 2014.  The complaint can be read here on GLAD’s website.