Social Security Sued for Discriminating Against SSI Recipients Married to a Same Sex Spouse
SSA is Demanding Refunds of Benefits Paid as Result of Agency’s Discrimination
GLAD, Justice in Aging, and Foley Hoag LLP today filed a class action lawsuit, Held v. Colvin, against the Social Security Administration (SSA) on behalf of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients married to someone of the same sex in or before June 2013. The suit charges that SSA discriminated against these individuals for months, and in some cases more than a year, after that discrimination was held unlawful by the Supreme Court when it struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in June 2013.
Well after DOMA was struck down, SSA did not recognize the marriages of same-sex couples, even in cases where SSI recipients informed SSA that they were married. Benefits for unmarried individuals are higher than for married individuals, but SSA continued to issue benefits as if the married individuals were single.
Now, the agency is demanding that recipients refund the benefits they were paid as a result of the discrimination.
“Unfortunately for married same-sex couples in marriage recognition states, SSA was completely unprepared to implement policies required of it by law after DOMA was struck down,” says Gerald McIntyre, Directing Attorney for Justice in Aging. “The victims of that discrimination should not be the ones to pay for the agency’s mistake.”
GLAD, Justice in Aging and Foley Hoag LLP are representing Kelley Richardson-Wright of Athol, Massachusetts, who is married to Kena Richardson-Wright; and Hugh Held of Los Angeles, who is married to Orion Masters.
“Basically Social Security kept making SSI payments after the fall of DOMA without considering the marriages of same sex couples, even when a recipient notified SSI of the marriage,” says Vickie Henry, Senior Staff Attorney for GLAD. “Now, 18 months later, SSA, to remedy its own unconstitutional conduct, is going after people who are both poor and aged or disabled and demanding thousands of dollars from them. That’s not fair, and it’s not right.”
Given the 8.3 million people receiving SSI benefits as of December 2014, the fact that 5-7% of the population is lesbian, gay, or bisexual, the overall incidence of poverty in that population, and the tens of thousands of marriages of couples of the same sex prior to Windsor, there are likely hundreds of people in this class. Because SSA conducts redeterminations of eligibility on a rolling basis, the number of putative class members will increase over time.