Harris v. Millennium Hotel: Workers’ Compensation Benefits for Same Sex Couples

Harris v. Millennium Hotel involved a worker who was shot and killed while working at a hotel in Alaska. The employer did not deny that the death occurred in the course of the worker’s employment, but when her spouse filed a claim for workers’ compensation death benefits, the employer denied the claim on grounds that they never received any proof that the deceased worker was legally married to the claimant.

wedding-ring-951344-m.jpgAs our workplace injury attorneys can explain, when a worker dies on the job, his or her surviving spouse may be eligible to receive workers’ compensation death benefits. This may also have an effect on your ability to file a civil negligence lawsuit.

In Harris, the claimant filed a notice that she was filing a challenge to the constitutionality of the state workers’ compensation statute on grounds that it was discriminatory against same sex couples who were not allowed to marry under state law.

The claimant submitted evidence to show that the couple had lived to together for many years and lived in every way as married couple, including becoming financially interdependent. The workers’ compensation board affirmed the denial of her right to death benefits, due to fact that they were not legally married, and could not have been legally married under state law. The board had no authority to rule on the constitutionality of the statute and chose not to do so.

On appeal, the court looked at the whether the state marriage amendment, which prohibited same sex marriages from being recognized, also deprived the claimant of the right to recover workers’ compensation death benefits. The court stated that, even though the marriage would not be recognized by the state, the claimant’s due process rights under both the state and United States Constitution entitled the claimant a right to equal treatment under the law.

Equal treatment included the right to be treated the same as a married couple in terms of workers’ compensation death benefits. This court also addressed the employer’s public policy argument that allowing for same sex couples to have the same benefits as married couples would cause considerable financial costs to the system.

The court quickly dismissed this argument and noted that the amount of workers’ compensation death benefit claims by same sex couples was such a small percentage of total claims that there would hardly be any effect on the system.

As you are probably aware, same sex marriage is legal in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and there should be no denial of workers’ compensation death benefits.

However, with people frequently moving from one to state to another, and people having workers’ compensation determinations made in a former state of residence, it is not certain that there will be no problems faced by same-sex couples, regardless of where they are living.

If you are injured on the job in Boston, call Jeffrey Glassman Injury Lawyers for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your workers’ compensation claim: (617) 777-7777.

Additional Resources:

Harris v. Millennium Hotel, July 25, 2014, Alaska Supreme Court

More Blog Entries:

Worker Critically Injured in Amusement Park Ride Collapse
, November 2, 2013, Boston Workers’ Compensation Lawyers Blog

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