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Catholic Relief Services accused of gender bias, denial of same-sex benefits

Catholic Relief Services withdrew health insurance coverage from a gay employee’s spouse despite having told the worker that the Baltimore-based agency’s insurance plan does not discriminate against same-sex marriages, the worker has alleged in a lawsuit filed in federal court.

The plaintiff, identified in court papers as “John Doe,” also claimed senior CRS management threatened to fire him if he pursued legal action against the relief organization.

Doe alleged in his complaint that CRS violated the federal Civil Rights Act’s Title VII prohibition on sex discrimination, the U.S. Equal Pay Act ban on gender bias, and similar Maryland laws ensuring equal employment opportunity and barring retaliation against workers for pursuing their legal rights.

“CRS discriminated against Mr. Doe on the basis of sex when it terminated Mr. Doe’s spousal benefits solely because he is a man married to a man rather than a woman married to a man,” Doe’s lead attorney, Shannon C. Leary of Gilbert Employment Law PC in Silver Spring, wrote in the complaint. “Further, CRS discriminated against Mr. Doe  based on pre-conceived gender stereotypes when it terminated Mr. Doe’s spousal benefits because he failed to fit the gender stereotype that cisgender men should marry cisgender women.”

CRS has denied the alleged wrongdoing.

The organization’s lead attorney, David W. Kinkopf, did not return a message seeking comment on the lawsuit Wednesday afternoon. Kinkopf is with Gallagher Evelius & Jones LLP in Baltimore.

On Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Blake accepted Doe’s request – unopposed by CRS — that he be permitted to use the popular pseudonym in his court filings. Blake agreed that Doe has a “strong” interest in his “privacy in a matter of sensitive and highly personal nature.”

“Although in recent years societal attitudes have become more accepting of the LGBTQ community, prejudice persists, and Doe’s wish to keep his true name off public filings in a case of this subject matter is a reasonable one,” wrote Blake, who sits in the federal courthouse in Baltimore. “The court finds that denying public access only to Doe’s identity is narrowly tailored to balance the right of access with Doe’s strong privacy interest.”

Doe alleged in his complaint that he was told when offered the job in mid-2016 that CRS’s insurance plan provides health coverage for employees and their spouses regardless of sex. But in November 2016, CRS told its employee Doe that insurance was provided to his husband by mistake because same-sex spouses are not covered.

Doe said he met with CRS management various times over the next eight months seeking to preserve the spousal health benefit. Those sessions culminated in a mid-2017 meeting in which Doe was told that “some people that oversee CRS” wanted him fired and that if he “chose to push the issue, doing so would hurt” him, stated his complaint.

Insurance benefits for Doe’s husband were ended on Oct. 1, 2017, a time during which the spouse was having extensive and expensive dental work performed, the complaint added.

“Due to the termination of Mr. Doe’s spousal benefits, Mr. Doe was forced to secure alternative insurance coverage at rates higher than those afforded under CRS’s plan,” wrote Leary, the attorney. “Mr. Doe’s spouse had to delay dental work which resulted in an additional surgery that would not have been necessary had he been covered by CRS’s benefit plan….”

Doe’s complaint stated that a senior manager subsequently showed him a “summary of employee benefits” document which stated that, “following the Catholic Church’s definition of marriage, we cannot offer benefits to unmarried domestic partners, nor to same-sex spouses.”

Doe is also being represented by attorneys from Brown Goldstein Levy LLP in Baltimore.

The case is John Doe v. Catholic Relief Services, No. 20-1815-CCB.

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