January 20, 2010 at 4:50 pm EDT | by Chris Johnson
Lambda sues OPM for denying spousal benefits to lesbian court worker

An LGBT advocacy group is suing a U.S. government agency headed by a gay official for refusing to give spousal benefits to a lesbian court employee.

On Wednesday, Lambda Legal filed its lawsuit against the U.S. Office of Personnel Management on behalf of Karen Golinski, a lesbian Ninth Circuit court attorney in California who’s seeking health benefits for her spouse, Amy Cunninghis.

The director of OPM is John Berry, the highest-ranking openly gay official in the Obama administration. The agency didn’t immediately respond to DC Agenda’s request to comment on the lawsuit.

The path leading to the lawsuit filed on Wednesday has been a back-and-forth between Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Alex Kozinski and OPM for the past year.

In January 2009, Kozinski determined that denying Golinski health insurance for her spouse was discriminatory. The judge ordered the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts to submit Golinski’s health benefits election form to her insurer, Blue Cross/Blue Shield, so her spouse could receive benefits.

But OPM disagreed with Kozinski’s order and told Blue Cross not to comply.

Then in November, Kozinksi further ruled he has the authority to interpret laws governing the rights of judicial employees. He gave OPM 30 days to comply or appeal.

OPM responded to this action by issuing another statement saying the order was not binding and the Justice Department advised the agency not to comply. OPM said the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage, prohibited the agency from giving Golinski the benefits.

After OPM didn’t appeal Kozinksi’s decision by his deadline, the judge held his prior orders had become conclusive and binding against the agency.

Jennifer Pizer, national marriage project director for Lambda Legal, said in a statement OPM’s refusal to give its analysis for not complying with Kozinksi’s order is “most telling.”

“If they are confident Judge Kozinski is wrong, why didn’t they tell us, and him, why they think so?” she said. “Simply defying his orders is a slap in the face to Karen and the entire LGBT community and bizarrely disrespects the judiciary.”

Lambda’s lawsuit, known as Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management, is pending in the U.S. District Court for Northern District of California. The lawsuit asks the court to order OPM to rescind its instruction to Blue Cross/Blue Shield not to enroll Golinski’s spouse in Golinski’s family health insurance plan.

Download a copy of Lambda’s complaint against OPM here.

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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