Lesbian couple files discrimination complaint against Cherry Creek Mortgage, UnitedHealth Group

Judith Dominguez announces at a press conference on Thursday in downtown Los Angeles that she and her wife, Patricia Martinez, left, have filed a discrimination complaint against Dominguez’s former employer, Cherry Creek Mortgage, who revoked Martinez’s medical benefits because the couple don’t meet the company’s definition of a spouse.

LOS ANGELES — An Alhambra lesbian couple filed a discrimination complaint in federal court today against the wife’s former employer and its health insurance company after the company revoked the wife’s health insurance because they provide benefits only for marriages “between a man and a woman.”

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THE COMPLAINT

Judith Dominguez, 59, a former employee with Cherry Creek Mortgage Company, and Patricia Martinez, 55, her wife since 2013 and partner of 29 years, took legal action in United States Central District Court against the Colorado-based employer and UnitedHealth Group, its health insurance administrator, for refusing to provide them the same spousal medical benefits they give to heterosexual employees, the complaint said.

“Cherry Creek is trying to take advantage of the current climate to move the country and LGBT rights backwards,” attorney Lori Rifkin said in a statement. “But federal law doesn’t allow employers to play politics on the backs of gay couples.”

Michael Norton, an attorney with Cherry Creek Mortgage, said the company does not comment on pending litigation.

Tyler Mason, spokesman with UnitedHealth Group, said he can’t comment on the complaint because he hasn’t yet seen it.

“We’re an inclusive organization that follows state and federal guidelines,” he said.

In their complaint, the couple accused Cherry Creek Mortgage of discrimination, retaliation and wrongful termination, including violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, the Equal Pay Act, the Affordable Care Act, California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act, and the California Labor Code.

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Judith Dominguez, left, and Patricia Martinez, have been a couple 29 years and were married in 2013. Photo: Judith Dominguez and Patricia Martinez.

DEFINING A SPOUSE

In its health benefits policy, Cherry Creek Mortgage, which had covered Martinez for most of 2016, said it covers spouses “who are in a legal union between one man and one woman, including legally married opposite sex spouses or common-law opposite sex marriage,” according to court documents.

However, the company has no problem marketing its products to same-sex couples and required Dominguez, who was a mortgage loan officer, to attend a mandatory training that targeted mortgages to same-sex couples, according to the complaint.

“The only thing more stunning than Cherry Creek’s bigotry is their hypocrisy,” attorney Dan Stormer said in the statement. “Under the U.S. Constitution, Patricia and Judith’s marriage is equal to any throughout the land.

“Cherry Creek’s owners can believe anything they want, but they can’t take away health coverage because of that belief,” he said.

MEDICAL DEBT

In December 2016, after covering Martinez since March, Cherry Creek Mortgage told Dominguez that they would not only cancel spousal medical benefits to Martinez, but also retroactively revoke them.

As a result, the couple has faced medical debt rising past $50,000, including a July 2017 bill from UnitedHealth Group for more than $30,000, according to court documents.

RETALIATION, WRONGFUL TERMINATION

The complaint also accuses Cherry Creek Mortgage of retaliation and wrongful termination.

  • On Feb. 27, 2017, Dominguez filed a complaint against Cherry Creek with the Los Angeles office of the EEOC regarding denial of spousal health benefits to her wife.
  • In March, Dominguez was told she would transfer from the Diamond Bar to the Pasadena office.
  • After Dominguez relocated to the Pasadena office in April, the branch manager told her that the office would close.
  • In May, the EEOC told Dominguez that they agreed with her discrimination complaint and issued her a notice of right to sue.

On June 30, Dominguez’s position was terminated

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with responses from Cherry Creek Mortgage and UnitedHealth Group.

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About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBT community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBT students.