(Philadelphia, PA) Jennifer Tobits, lesbian partner of a deceased attorney in the Chicago office of Philadelphia-based Cozen O’Connor, P.C., is not entitled to her “spouse’s” profit-sharing plan because being “married” in Canada is not recognized as a legitimate marriage under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), according to court papers [LINK] filed today by the Thomas More Society.
As Cozen O’Connor attorney Sarah Ellyn Farley lay dying of cancer last September, she made her final property arrangements, including designating her parents as the beneficiaries of her law firm’s profit-sharing account. However, her “wife,” Jennifer Tobits, with whom she obtained a same sex marriage license in Toronto in 2006, claims that she is entitled to the proceeds of the account. The Thomas More Society, representing the parents, responded to Cozen O’Connor’s interpleader action in federal court, stating that federal and state DOMAs forbid the recognition of Tobits as a “spouse” and that the law firm should disburse the profit-sharing plan proceeds to the parents, in accord with the wishes of the deceased.
Thomas More Society attorneys argue that the parents are entitled to the funds because their daughter executed a beneficiary designation form in their favor before her death, and because Farley and Tobits’ “marriage” was invalid under Federal and Pennsylvania law. Under the terms of the profit-sharing plan, the parents would be next in line when there is no spouse, even without a designated beneficiary form from the deceased. Therefore, they are legally entitled to the funds as Farley’s surviving parents on two accounts.
“The deceased was fully aware of her rights under the law to designate her parents as the beneficiaries of her profit-sharing plan proceeds, even going so far as to state that she was ‘single’ in accord with the law. What Ms. Tobits is trying to do is circumvent both federal and state laws for her own financial gain. The Farleys merely seek to effectuate their daughter’s final wishes, while her alleged ‘spouse’ seeks to unjustly pad her pocketbook,” said Peter Breen, executive director and legal counsel of the Thomas More Society.
The case, Cozen O’Connor v. Tobits, et al., no. 11-cv-45, is pending in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, District Judge C. Darnell Jones, II, presiding. Randall Wenger, Chief Counsel of the Independence Law Center of Pennsylvania, is serving as local counsel for the Farleys.