The plaintiff is a Pennsylvania-based law firm who employed the (female) decedent, Ellyn Farley, who married her wife, Jennifer Tobits, in Toronto in 2006. Farley died in 2010. The issue in this case is who should get Farley's death benefits, under an ERISA-covered plan, payable by her former employer, Cozen O'Connor. Cozen filed this action on January 4, 2011, in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, naming both Farley's parents and Tobits as defendants and seeking court guidance on which of those claimants should receive the benefits.
Cozen has asked to court to allow it to pay the contested benefits into some kind of registry or escrow account, and then exit the dispute while the claimants either settled or litigated the matter. (It also sought attorney's fees.) While it has taken no position on the constitutionality of DOMA, it has
argued in court that its plan does not define spouse to mean something different than the federal definition--which, under DOMA, means that only opposite-sex spouses are included. (A different definition was possible, Cozen says, but its plan did not take that approach.) Thus, Cozen has argued, if DOMA is constitutional, the benefits should go to Farley's parents.
Tobits is represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights; she takes the position that Tobits meets the definition of Farley's "spouse" in the firm's benefits plan, that the federal Defense of Marriage Act does not prevent private employers from respecting the marriages of same-sex couples, and that if DOMA did apply, it would be unconstitutional to deny plan benefits on that basis.
Both the United States and the "Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group" (which has been designated by the Speaker of the House to defend the constitutionality of DOMA, given the U.S.'s position that the statute is not, in fact, constitutional) have entered the case.
On September 25, 2012, the Court ordered that the case be put on hold while the U.S. Supreme Court decided whether to grant the petition for a writ of certiorari in other cases challenging DOMA. According to NCLR's website, in November 2012, Tobits won the related issue in Pennsylvania Probate Court, and was recognized as the sole heir and legal representative of Farley's estate.
On July 8, 2013, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group submitted a consent motion to withdraw as an intervenor-defendant, following the Supreme Court's holding in Windsor
that § 3 of DOMA was unconstitutional. The motion was granted by the Court on July 11, 2013.
On July 29, 2013, the Court found that pursuant to the benefits plan, meant to be governed by ERISA, designated benefits go to any surviving spouse, with no further definition of spouse. Following the outcome of Windsor, Tobits was the legally recognized spouse and was awarded Ms. Farley's death benefits. The Court also ordered that Cozen O'Connor deposit all money due under the plan into the registry of the court, and relieved it of any further liability to Tobits or the Farleys, but did not grant it attorneys' fees.
On August 23, 2013, the Farleys appealed to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. On August 30, 2013, the Farleys moved to voluntarily dismiss their appeal, which was granted by the Court on September 23, 2013.Darren Miller - 11/27/2012
Claire Lally - 03/16/2015