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Lesbian couple alleges Kroger, union discriminated against them

Nicholas Eckhart
Creative Commons http://michrad.io/1LXrdJM

A deli worker at a Kroger supermarket is filing an employment discrimination complaint against the company and her union. She says it’s because a jointly run health benefits fund refused to accept
her wife after the two were legally married last year.

Stephanie Citron married her same-sex partner during the brief window last year when it was legal in Michigan. Once she went full-time with Kroger, she learned that her health benefits fund only covers the
spouses of opposite-sex married couples.

“It was pretty much devastating to me because I never thought of myself as different,” she said at a press conference. “I don’t do labels."

Citron says she gets money withdrawn from her paycheck with an employer match to pay for her health benefits.

Dana Nessel is Citron’s attorney. She says the case could set a precedent for similar situations if the U.S. Supreme Court legalizes same-sex marriage.

“We’ll have to find out,” she said. “People will start applying, and will then they will be told, either, sure, we welcome your same-sex spouse to be covered under our benefits package. Or, sorry, we have an exclusion for same-sex married couples.”

Nessel is also an attorney for Jayne Rowse and April DeBoer, the Oakland County couple challenging Michigan’s same-sex marriage ban before the U.S. Supreme Court. A ruling in that case is expected any day now.

A spokesman for Kroger says the health benefits fund, which is jointly operated with the union, changed its rules this week to allow same-sex married couples to qualify.

“We believe that should provide the individuals in this matter the coverage they sought,” says Ken McLure. "This is a unique situation.”

McLure says the benefits fund is not under the exclusive control of Kroger, which “has proudly offered domestic partner benefits in our company plan since 2008.”

The United Food and Commercial Workers did not return a phone call.

Cintron’s complaint seeks damages for out-of-pocket costs as well as punitive damages for “conduct that is outrageous, willful, and mean-spirited.”

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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