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Retired teacher wins spousal benefits lawsuit against Gateway School District

| Friday, June 23, 2017, 2:39 p.m.
Retired gay teacher Richard Seech of Wilkins, who won a lawsuit against the Gateway School District. He said the district denied him spousal retirement benefits. (Source: Facebook -- Richard Seech)

The Gateway School District violated the constitutional rights of a retired teacher by denying his spouse retirement benefits, according to a court ruling June 23.

Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge Alan Hertzberg ruled the district wrongly denied benefits to Richard Seech of Wilkins, who was an art teacher at Gateway Middle School until 2013.

Hertzberg awarded Seech $50,000 in damages and ordered Gateway to pay Seech's legal costs to his attorney, Samuel Cordes.

Seech filed a lawsuit in April 2016 seeking domestic partner retirement benefits from the district for himself and his male partner, who he married in 2014, a year after retirement.

Despite district policy stating that employees who are not married when they retire are ineligible for spousal benefits, Seech contended that Pennsylvania law did not allow him and his male partner to marry at the time of his retirement.

“Although Seech wished to legally marry his long-term domestic partner at the time of his retirement in June 2013, he was unable to do so because same-sex marriage was not yet recognized or legal in Pennsylania,” said Cordes, in a prepared statement.

“This is not an LGBTQ issue; this is purely a contractual issue in my mind,” Gateway School Board member Chad Stubenbort said. “Unfortunately, Pennsylvania's laws were set where they could not get married at that time and the contractual agreements stated there were benefits for married employees.”

Stubenbort said it reamins to be seen if the district will appeal the case.

“That would be a decision the board as a whole will have to decide after consultation with our attorney,” he said.

Chjristine Manganas is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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