Leliaert v. Ragland
Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit against the Employee Retirement System of Texas (ERS) for violating the U.S. Constitution by denying spousal health insurance coverage for the same-sex spouse of a University of North Texas administrator.
Deborah Leliaert has been an employee of the University of North Texas in Denton for nearly 24 years, currently serving as Vice President for University Relations and Planning. Her wife, Paula Woolworth, worked for many years in the risk management and managed health care industry, including 15 years for a Fortune 500 company. She retired in 2011 and moved into volunteer service. She is currently a member of the Town of Shady Shores town council, serves on the boards of two nonprofit organizations, one working with low-income children and the other abused and abandoned animals, and is a member of the Chancellor’s Club Advisory Board at the University of Kansas. Deborah and Paula married in California in 2008, in the brief window after the California Supreme Court ruling allow same-sex couples to marry and before the passage of the discriminatory Proposition 8.
For the past several years, Deborah has attempted to enroll Paula for spousal healthcare benefits under the University of North Texas group plan. On each occasion, ERS has denied the coverage, citing the Texas marriage restrictions on recognizing the legal marriages of same-sex couples. While a U.S. District Court judge struck down the discriminatory marriage bans in February, 2014, that ruling was stayed pending an appeal to the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, which heard arguments in that appeal plus appeals from Louisiana and Mississippi in January.
“It is demeaning to know, as I sit around the table at senior management meetings at UNT, that each one of my colleagues is able to enroll his wife or her husband in the health plan, but I can’t,” Deborah said. “I love my job, and my colleagues at UNT are incredibly supportive, but their hands are tied. It’s distressing that the state I work for treats me like a second-class citizen. It’s hurtful and unfair. I want to be treated equally to other state employees who enjoy the benefits of state-supported family health coverage. ERS has to be held to account, not just for me and Paula, but for all married lesbian and gay employees who, because they love Texas, work for the state.”
- June 2014 Lambda Legal files suit.