News from the Supreme Court: On June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court issued its decision in United States v. Windsor, Case No. 12-307. The Court struck down Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which had set the default definition of “marriage” for purposes of federal law as excluding same-sex marriages. The Court’s decision has several important ramifications for federal-sector employees and retired federal-sector annuitants.
First, the decision will initiate a long-term process of modifying federal employee benefit programs to extend spousal benefits to same-sex married couples. OPM Acting Director Elaine Kaplan, in a June 26, 2013, press release, announced that OPM, the Department of Justice and other agencies were beginning work on preparing updated guidance for federal human resources offices concerning the impacts of Windsor on benefits programs. Affected federal employees and retired annuitants should pay attention to future developments, as some of the changes may well include important issues such as (potentially retroactive) spousal benefit elections for federal annuitants.
Second, the Windsor decision carries the potential for raising a new procedural avenue for probationary employees discharged due to sexual orientation, depending on their marital status. Probationers are only able to appeal adverse actions to the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) directly if they allege discrimination based on partisan political affiliation or marital status. As a result of Windsor, probationers alleging that they suffered a major adverse action based on an the intent to discriminate against them specifically for their same-sex marital status may now have the option to appeal those adverse actions to the MSPB.