Colorado-based Cherry Creek Mortgage sued by same-sex couple over alleged health benefit denials

DENVER – Colorado-based Cherry Creek Mortgage faces a federal discrimination lawsuit filed by a California couple who say they were denied health benefits by the company because of their same-sex marriage—one of them who was just a year out from suffering two heart attacks.

Judith Dominguez, 59, and her wife, 55-year-old Patricia Martinez, filed the suit against Cherry Creek Mortgage Company and two health insurance companies it used—UnitedHealth Group and UnitedHealthcare Services—last week in U.S. District Court of Central California.

It alleges that the Greenwood Village-based mortgage company violated several anti-discrimination and fair employment laws and demands a jury trial and damages.

According to the suit, Dominguez started working at the Cherry Creek Mortgage branch in Diamond Bar, California in February 2016, and enrolled herself and her wife on the UnitedHealthcare plan the company offered.

The two had been together since 1988, but legally married in 2013.

Initially, Cherry Creek granted employee-spouse coverage for the two, and they were covered through nearly all of 2016.

But after Dominguez re-enrolled them in the employee-spouse plan in November 2016, she was told the next month that Cherry Creek was denying coverage for Martinez because the company would only cover “spouses who are in a legal union between one man and one woman,” the lawsuit alleges.

At the same time, the suit says the Cherry Creek told Dominguez that it was retroactively revoking her wife’s coverage from March 2016 on, despite her having made all her premium payments.

Martinez had two heart attacks in 2015 and was undergoing treatment and recovery in 2016, including a hospitalization to have her gall bladder removed. The services and treatments were retroactively no longer covered, according to the suit. It says that Martinez can no longer go to her cardiologist or her primary doctor because she had to buy coverage through the Affordable Care Act instead.

The suit says the couple is still receiving bills for treatment Martinez received while the couple was covered.

In January, they hired lawyers who sent a letter to Cherry Creek telling the company it was required to cover the couple under federal law, but the company’s vice president, John Carson, said Dominguez’s request for her wife to be covered didn’t meet the company’s “clear criteria for spousal benefits.”

UnitedHealthcare said its hands were tied by Cherry Creek—a “Christian-based company,” the lawsuit alleges the company referred to Cherry Creek as.

Dominguez filed with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) in February, and the EEOC sent back a notice of her right to sue in May.

A couple weeks after she filed her initial complaint with the EEOC, Dominguez was told she would be transferred to the company’s Pasadena office. A month after her transfer, that branch closed—effectively leaving her without a job, though the lawsuit alleges that Cherry Creek’s human resources department wouldn’t tell her what was going on.

In late June, Dominguez was terminated, but the suit alleges that Cherry Creek continued to use her image, signature and name to continue to sell mortgages at a branch at which she never worked.

"It’s despicable, I mean... I’m outraged and I think everybody should be outraged that a company like this, a multi-billion dollar company can chose to follow the law when it’s convenient for them, [to] follow the law when they’re going to make money off of same-sex couples by providing mortgages and loans and then to turn around and not support their employee who is married to another woman because it’s not convenient for them, it’s not beneficial for them," said Dominguez during a conversation with Denver7 on Thursday. "It’s a shock, it’s an outrage, it’s vindictive that they went retroactive.” 

The couple is seeking damages and expenses for Martinez’s denial of health insurance, Dominguez’s alleged wrongful termination, general damages from physical emotion pain, attorneys’ fees and punitive and exemplary damages.

“The only thing more stunning than Cherry Creek’s bigotry is their hypocrisy,” said the couple’s attorney, Dan Stormer, of Los Angeles-based Hadsell, Stormer & Renick. “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.”

Lawyers for Cherry Creek Mortgage, who is being represented by Thomas N. Scheffel & Associates, said they do not comment on pending litigation.

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