By Cherri Gregg

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — A Conshohocken electrician has filed suit against his steel mill employer and its health plan, alleging they violated federal law by refusing to provide spousal benefits to his same-sex spouse.

Bryce Ginther works as an industrial electrician at ArcelorMittal, in Conshohocken.  On May 15th of last year, he married his longtime partner, Kit Kineef, in New York.

The same day, Gunther (at right in photo) sent a copy of his marriage license his employer, asking that it extend dependent coverage to his new husband.

“And that request was rejected and denied,” says Philadelphia attorney Tiffany Palmer of the firm Jerner & Palmer, whose law firm, along with the California-based firm Lewis Feinberg Lee Renaker & Jackson, now represents the couple.

Palmer says the company told Ginther that spousal benefits under the health plan do extend to same-sex spouses.  She says that declaration violates the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), so they filed suit in federal court in Philadelphia.

“Because it just sets forth ‘spouse’ and doesn’t give any specification limiting that, we believe coverage should be provided under that plan,” Palmer said today.

The suit demands damages amounting to $110 a day beginning the day the couple was denied spousal benefits, plus attorney fees.

Palmer says this case is likely the first of its kind in Pennsylvania, but she expects more will come.

“The fact that more and more Pennsylvania couples are getting married in other jurisdictions and coming back here and getting recognition for their new marriage, I think we’ll see more and more of these cases,” she told KYW Newsradio today.

The lawsuit names Ginther’s employer, ArcelorMittal USA, the Steelworkers Health and Welfare Fund, and the board of trustees for the Steelworkers Health and Welfare Fund.

ArcelorMittal responded to our request for comment with the following statement:  “We are currently reviewing the matter to determine next steps.”

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