Lambda Legal sues Obama admin. over failure to provide benefits in Golinski case

The refusal of the Obama administration to follow a judge’s order to grant benefits to the wife of Karen Golinski has left a lot of people scratching their heads. Aside from the usual apologists (and job-seekers) who can never find fault with anything Obama does, it just didn’t make sense that the White House, the Department of Justice and the Office of Personnel Management went to such great lengths to deny the Judge’s order. It seemed like a slam-dunk opportunity to make progress. But, we’ve learned over the past year not to expect anything like that from the Obama administration.

Today, Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit on behalf of Karen Golinski. I usually don’t post entire press releases, but this one uses very strong language and should be seen in full:

Lambda Legal today filed suit against the federal government in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The lawsuit requests an order directing the U.S. Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to obey prior rulings by Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Alex Kozinski awarding spousal health insurance benefits to Ninth Circuit judicial attorney Karen Golinski.

Kozinski ruled in January 2009, that denying Golinski spousal health insurance for her wife, Amy Cunninghis, was illegal discrimination. He ordered the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts to submit Golinski’s health benefits election form to her insurer, Blue Cross/Blue Shield. OPM disagreed with Kozinski’s order and told Blue Cross not to comply.

“It’s a bit shocking that we’ve reached this point with the Obama Administration. Where is our ‘fierce advocate’ for LGBT rights?” said Jennifer C. Pizer, National Marriage Project Director for Lambda Legal and co-counsel for Golinski.

Last November, Kozinski issued a further ruling explaining that he has the authority, under both the Ninth Circuit’s Employment Dispute Resolution (EDR) Plan and the constitutional separation of powers doctrine, to interpret laws governing the rights of judicial employees. His order gave OPM thirty days to comply or appeal. The controversy drew heightened national attention when, instead of doing either, OPM issued a press release saying the order was not binding and that the U.S. Department of Justice had advised OPM not to comply in light of the 1996 so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA). When OPM failed to appeal by the December deadline, Kozinski held that his prior rulings had become conclusive and binding against OPM.

“OPM’s refusal to give their analysis – even informally – is the most telling. If they are confident Judge Kozinski is wrong, why didn’t they tell us, and him, why they think so? Simply defying his orders is a slap in the face to Karen and the entire LGBT community and bizarrely disrespects the judiciary. At a minimum, federal courts have the power and responsibility to end discrimination against their own employees. The whole point of the court’s EDR tribunal is to give judicial employees the same meaningful recourse as other federal employees. OPM has said nothing to suggest the Chief Judge’s reasoning on this point is mistaken,” Pizer added.

The lawsuit asks the federal district court to order OPM to rescind its instruction to Golinski’s insurer, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, not to enrollCunninghis in Golinski’s family health insurance plan so the coverage for Cunninghis can begin.

“The timing of this lawsuit is painfully ironic,” said Golinski. “It falls between the first anniversaries of Judge Kozinski’s original ruling in my favor and the new Administration’s arrival in Washington with its promise of positive change for lesbian and gay Americans. I deeply appreciate the commitment of my employer – the Ninth Circuit – to fairness and equality, and I wish this lawsuit were unnecessary.”

Where is our “fierce advocate” for LGBT rights? A lot of us want to know.

On October 27, 2010, Joe was one of five bloggers who interviewed President Obama. Joe is a DC-based political consultant with over twenty-five years of experience at both the state and federal level. Joe has managed political operations and legislative efforts for both candidates and issues-based organizations. For seven years, he was the Director of State Legislation at Handgun Control, Inc. He served as that organization's first Political Director during the 2000 cycle. Joe is a graduate of the University of Maine School of Law. In addition, he has a Masters in Public Administration from Lehigh University and received his B.A. from the University of New Hampshire. Joe also has a fun dog, Petey, a worthy successor to Boomer, who got Joe through eight years of Bush and Cheney. Joe likes to think he is a world class athlete having finished the 2005 Chicago Marathon in the time of 4:10. He has completed six other marathons as well -- and is still determined to break the four hour mark.

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