Cases & Advocacy

Reed v. KRON/IBEW Local 45 Pension Plan

Status: Closed

Outcome: Victory

Location: California

Jurisdiction + Case Number: U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, No. 16-cv-04471-JSW; U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, No. 17-17176

On August 9, 2016, the widower of a former KRON4 employee sued Young Broadcasting of San Francisco and the KRON/IBEW Local 45 Pension Plan for refusing to provide him with a spousal pension benefit even though the couple were registered domestic partners.

David Reed and Donald Lee Gardner began dating in 1998. They quickly fell in love and committed themselves to caring for and protecting one another, including by becoming California registered domestic partners in 2004. They were together for 16 years and were married for only five days before Donald passed away in 2014.

David Reed and Donald Lee Gardner

Donald was employed as technical director for KRON4, a San Francisco television station owned by Nexstar Media Group, for more than 30 years before retiring in 2009. After Donald died, David sought a spousal survivor benefit under KRON4’s pension plan, which incorporates California law. Even though California law mandates that registered domestic partners have all of the same rights and responsibilities as married spouses, the plan refused to provide a surviving spouse pension to David after Donald’s death.

The plan argued that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) foreclosed it from recognizing David as Donald’s spouse. On September 25, 2017, the district court granted judgment in the plan’s favor.

On May 16, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit reversed the lower court’s decision. It held that “[t]he Committee abused its discretion by denying benefits to Reed. During either time the Committee evaluated the Plan’s benefits in this case‚–in 2009 or in 2016‚–California law afforded domestic partners the same rights, protections, and benefits as those granted to spouses.” As a result of this ruling, David is receiving a monthly spousal survivor benefit for the rest of his life.

David is represented by NCLR and Renaker Hasselman Scott LLP.