December 12, 2016

Impact of Obergefell v. Hodges Decision on Kentucky Cities

Impact of Obergefell v. Hodges Decision on Kentucky Cities

Impact of Obergefell v. Hodges Decision on Kentucky Cities 

On Friday, June 26,2016 the United States Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriage is a fundamental right under the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution.  So what does that mean for city governments in Kentucky? 

The decision reaffirms the February 25, 2015 Department of Labor Final Rule revising the regulatory definition of spouse under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA).  This amendment to the rule provided that same sex-spouses must be treated the same as opposite-sex spouses under the Family Medical Leave Act.  For example, the DOL Final Rule and the Supreme Court ruling will allow eligible employees to take FMLA leave to care for their same-sex spouse with a serious health condition and to take qualifying exigency leave if a same-sex spouse is being deployed for military duty. 

Therefore, cities that are required to provide FMLA to eligible employees (i.e., those cities with 50 or more employees) need to make sure their FMLA policies conform to this change and that administrative staff are properly trained to properly apply the policy.    . 

Other impacts based on this decision include the following:

  • Employee handbooks: Cities should review and update all employee handbooks, policies, and procedures to extend to same-sex spouses the same rights given to opposite-sex spouses.
  • Taxes: Because same-sex couples can now file their state and federal taxes jointly, employers may need to update their W-4 forms to account for their change in status.
  • Other benefits: Discretionary benefits extended by cities, such as bereavement and sick leave, must be applied uniformly to all legally married couples.
  • COBRA: Same-sex spouses are now also covered by COBRA.
  • Pensions, qualified retirement accounts, and IRAs: Employers may need to allow employees to change their beneficiary designations.
  • Employee benefits:  Employees may now be eligible for employer-provided fringe benefits like health insurance. 

Obergefell is not an employment law case and does not directly implicate Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  While the Civil Rights Act does not specifically prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity/expression, gender stereotyping, harassment, and the discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals may still give rise to a gender discrimination claim under Title VII. In addition, this decision will not impact “Fairness” ordinances that some cities have adopted that provide additional protections for LGBT individuals against discrimination, such as in housing practices and employment decisions.

For additional information or questions on the Obergefell decision or for sample policies, contact Andrea Shindlebower, Personnel Services Specialist with the KLC Member Legal Services Department.