Lawsuit Claiming Social Security Administration Discriminated Against Same-Sex Couples Prompts Agency Action

Gay Pride FlagThe Social Security Administration (SSA) has temporarily stopped sending repayment notices to some Supplemental Security Income (SSI) beneficiaries after two same-sex married couples filed a lawsuit to prevent the agency from recouping SSI benefits that they were overpaid because the SSA refused to recognize their marriages.

Hugh Held, an SSI beneficiary, and Orion Masters were married in 2008.  Mr. Held then informed the SSA that his benefits should be reduced due to his marriage, but the SSA continued to pay him a higher benefit as if he were still single.  Likewise, Kelley and Kena Richardson Wright were married in 2007 and when Kelley applied for SSI benefits she indicated that she was married.  Again, the SSA continued to pay her the single benefit.

The overpayments continued long after the U.S. Supreme Court held in 2013 that the federal government had to honor legally married same-sex couples' marriages for federal benefit purposes.  However, in fall 2014, Mr. Held and Ms. Richardson Wright both received notices from the SSA adjusting their benefits to reflect their marriages and demanding repayment of the benefits that the SSA had erroneously paid while refusing to treat them as married.

The plaintiffs filed a class action lawsuit against the SSA in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, alleging that the agency violated their civil rights by refusing to recognize their marriages and requesting that the court enjoin the government from recouping the improperly paid benefits.  Neither couple is arguing that they shouldn't receive the lower monetary benefit moving forward, only that the SSA should not recover the past payments that were made while it was discriminating against same-sex married couples.

According to Justice in Aging's website, the SSA has now issued an emergency order preventing all offices from sending further reimbursement notices to same-sex married couples in this situation, but the agency still has not stopped attempting to collect the plaintiffs' benefits.   

Justice in Aging is looking for additional class members who are same sex couples who were legally married and receiving SSI in June 2013, even if they haven't received a reimbursement notice from the SSA.  If you or someone you know fits this profile, please contact Justice in Aging Litigation Director, Anna Rich at arich@justiceinaging.org.

Article Last Modified: 06/16/2015

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