SAN FRANCISCO – The spouse of a telecommunications engineer is suing the IUOE Stationary Engineers Local 39 Pension Plan and its board of trustees because of their alleged refusal to pay for a mandatory spousal pension benefit solely because he was married to a man.

Robert Pritchard, the spouse of Thomas Conwell, filed a lawsuit Jan. 22 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California District Court San Francisco/Oakland Division against the pension plan and its board, citing breach of fiduciary duty under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act.

According to the suit, Conwell worked at the San Francisco Hilton and was a member of the Local 39 union. On Aug. 28, 2008, Conwell and Pritchard were married, the suit states. Three years later, Conwell was purportedly disabled from working and he applied for disability benefits from the Social Security Administration. Conwell, accompanied by Pritchard, applied in person for a disability pension under the union’s plan, the suit states. The plan allegedly defines “spouse” as “a person to whom a participant is legally married.”

On Feb. 24, 2012, Conwell died and the pension plan allegedly denied Pritchard’s request for survivor benefits in the plan. According to the claim, the plan incorrectly stated that Conwell was considered single by law and was prohibited from recognizing same-sex marriages at the time.

Prichard is seeking the court declare that the union violated the terms of the plan and pay a joint and survivor pension beginning in 2012 with prejudgment interest. Julie Wilensky of the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center in Berkeley, Timothy P. Fox of the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center in Denver, Shannon Minter and Amy Whelan of the National Center for Lesbian Rights in San Francisco and Nina Wasow of Feinberg, Jackson, Worthman and Wasow LLP of Oakland are representing Prichard.

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California District Court San Francisco/Oakland Division Case number 3:16-cv-00355-LB

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