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Two Same-Sex Couples Sue BNSF over Health Benefits

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Ted S. Warren
/
Associated Press
Michael and Eli Hall, right, hold their marriage license certificate, Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013 as they talk to reporters in Seattle.

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Listen to Paula Wissel's story.

Two workers are suing BNSF, one of the nation's largest rail companies, saying their same-sex spouses have repeatedly been denied health benefits even though gay marriage is legal in Washington state.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Seattle states BNSF refused to add the spouses of locomotive engineer Michael Hall and conductor Amie Garrand to their plans.

Hall, a train engineer, said trying to get the company to cover his spouse has been an emotional rollercoaster.

“I was told many times by BNSF [that] marriage is one man, one woman. I told them not in Washington state. They still said no,” Hall said.

Also suing is Amie Garrand, who said her spouse was also denied benefits. Both employees said they made repeated requests over several months, only to be met with rude denials.

BNSF spokesman Gus Melonas said he couldn't comment on the specifics of the lawsuit, but said generally "benefits are available to same-sex spouses of BNSF salaried employees if they were married in a sate where such marriage is recognized."

Hall and Garrand are members of the union, and the company said the language in the union contract doesn’t cover same-sex couples as it refers to someone’s “husband or wife.”

The union disputes that claim, saying it fully supports providing benefits for all married couples.

Paula reports on groundbreaking legal decisions in Washington State and on trends in crime and law enforcement. She’s been at KNKX since 1989 and has covered the Law and Justice beat for the past 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.