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Monday, February 26, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Union to Give Man His Late Husband’s Pension

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A local union pension fund has changed its mind and agreed to pay benefits to a San Francisco man whose husband, a union member, died four years ago.

The IUOE Stationary Engineers Local 39 Pension Plan, which initially asserted it did not recognize same-sex marriage, backpedaled this week and agreed to distribute pension payments to Robert Pritchard, husband of former union member Thomas Conwell, who died in 2012.

Pritchard said he received a letter from the pension plan shortly after his husband died which said the plan was "prohibited from recognizing same-sex marriages at this time." Pritchard sued over the refusal, which his lawyers called "a case of pure discrimination."

Pritchard and Conwell married on Aug. 28, 2008, after same-sex marriage was legalized in California by order of the California Supreme Court.

Conwell had worked for 30 years as a telecommunications engineer at the San Francisco Hilton Hotel. He applied for a disability pension when he fell ill and had to retire, marking himself as married on the application and listing Pritchard as his spouse.

His health deteriorated and when he died in 2012, the plan said his husband was not entitled to widower's benefits because the plan's terms considered Conwell "single, as a matter of law" at the time he died.

But parties filed a notice of voluntary dismissal on March 7 after the plan reversed course. It has already begun making payments, according to Pritchard's lawyer Amy Whelan of the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

"I think that's it great the plan did the right thing here," Whelan told Courthouse News in a telephone interview. "I'm glad they were able to resolve this and save themselves from additional litigation, which is good for everybody."

The pension plan's office did not return a voicemail requesting comment.

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