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Whitewood Significantly Impacts Workplace Rights In Pennsylvania

Labor and Employment Alert | May 22, 2014
By: George C. Morrison

On March 18, 2014 we notified you of the effects of the United States Supreme Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor which strikes down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act. On May 20, 2014, the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania issued its decision in Whitewood v. Wolf, which strikes down Pennsylvania’s ban on same-sex marriage and prohibition against recognition of same-sex marriages entered into in other jurisdictions. Employers should carefully review and update their policies and procedures in light of this recent decision.

The Whitewood Decision

In Whitewood, eleven couples argued that the two provisions of Pennsylvania’s Domestic Relations Code which limited marriage to opposite-sex couples and prohibited the recognition of same-sex marriages legally entered into in other jurisdictions, violated the Due Process Clause and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Honorable John E. Jones, III, of the United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania agreed, stating “[w]e are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history.” The decision provides that same-sex couples may wed in Pennsylvania and that Pennsylvania must recognize same-sex marriages entered into in other jurisdictions. On May 21, 2014, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett announced that he will not appeal the decision. 

The Impact on the Definition of “Spouse”

The Whitewood decision will impact many different legal areas, including employment laws. As fully discussed in our March 18, 2014 Newsletter, The Windsor Effect on Workplace Rights, one law impacted by Whitewood is the Family and Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”). Under the FMLA, the term “spouse” is defined as “a husband or wife as defined or recognized under state law for purposes of marriage in the state where the employee resides, including common law marriage and same-sex marriage.” Based on Whitewood, an employee who resides in Pennsylvania and marries a same-sex partner in Pennsylvania or under the laws of another jurisdiction is now eligible for leave under the FMLA to care for his or her spouse. 

Recommendations 

Employers should carefully review all of their employment and benefits policies in light of Whitewood. The Whitewood decision will significantly impact multiple employment laws, including, but not limited to, the FMLA. If you have any questions about this Alert, please contact the attorneys in our Labor and Employment Group or the attorney in the firm with whom you are regularly in contact. 

If you would like to discuss how any of these changes may affect you, or have any other labor and employment questions, please contact George Morrison (610.782.4911 or morrisong@whiteandwilliams.com). 

This correspondence should not be construed as legal advice or legal opinion on any specific facts or circumstances. The contents are intended for general informational purposes only, and you are urged to consult a lawyer concerning your own situation and legal questions.
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