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Ozark Fire District Sued For Not Providing Same-Sex Benefits

Ozark Fire Protection District

The American Civil Liberties Union of Missouri has filed a lawsuit on behalf of Captain Andi Mooneyham of the Ozark Fire Protection District seeking spousal benefits for same-sex couples.

The lawsuit cites an Oct. 3 decision (Barrier v. Vasterling) by a Jackson County judge that ordered same-sex marriages legally performed in other states to be recognized in Missouri. Attorney General Chris Koster did not appeal the decision, and a deadline for an appeal has run out, according to ACLU Legal Director Tony Rothert.

“That’s the law now in Missouri. And most government entities have fallen in place; they’re updating their policies to reflect the equality that’s required by the constitution. Unfortunately, the Ozark Fire Protection District is an outlier,” Rothert said.

Mooneyham, who married her partner in California in 2013, has sought benefits through the Ozark Fire Protection District Board since this summer. The amendment to allow the benefits appeared to have support from the board in August, but no action was taken after board attorney Todd Johnson advised that the policy didn’t comply with state law.

After the Oct. 3 ruling, Rothert sent a letter to Johnson informing him that the district is now required to offer spousal benefits to its married employees, regardless of their sexual orientation.

“This is fantastic news for the district, which has repeatedly professed its desire to treat employees equally,” the letter read. “Few would doubt the folly of depriving first responders — who put their lives on the line — of benefits simply because of their sexual orientation. The law has finally caught up to the basic notion of fairness that most Missourians expect from their government."

Rothert tells KSMU the ACLU then received a letter in response “that indicated they [Ozark Fire District] would persist and refuse to provide equal benefits.”

Requests for comment from Johnson were not immediately provided Monday.

Rothert admits that before the October decision, Johnson’s caution to the board against providing the benefits “may have been legitimate legal advice,” but that is no longer the case given the recent court ruling.

“I don’t know what’s in the hearts of board members,” Rothert said. “I certainly know that they say they want to provide equal benefits to all firefighters, and I know that they can if they want to. And I also know that they haven’t.”

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