N.J. Ruling Clears Way for Loss of Consortium Claims by Gay Couples

A judge’s ruling that a same-sex couple can sue for a loss of consortium could expand rights for gays in New Jersey.

Superior Court Judge James S. Rothschild Jr. ruled last week that Judith Peterson and Linda Henry of Fair Lawn can continue their claim against St. Barnabas Health Care System, Clara Maass Medical Center and five individuals.

Henry, a former paramedic at Clara Maass in Belleville, claimed she was forced to endure a hostile work environment as a result ofher gender and sexual orientation, and suffered retaliation after she reported misconduct by co-workers. Henry said those actions led her to suffer a heart attack and other health problems that led her to neglect Peterson, her partner of nine years.

In legal terms, loss of consortium is defined as the inability of a spouse to engage in normal marital relations. Up to now, only married couples have been permitted to sue for loss of consortium.

Peterson and Henry filed an affidavit of domestic partnership last August.

“The most important aspect of the decision is that domestic partners will no longer be treated as second-class citizens,” said Clark E. Alpert, a West Orange lawyer whose firm represents six plaintiffs including Peterson and Henry. “The intent of the Legislature and rationale of Judge Rothschild are that domestic partners have the same rights as other citizens.”

In his ruling, Rothschild cited part of New Jersey’s Domestic Partnership Act, passed last year, to justify broadening “the universe of plaintiffs” who are allowed to bring similar lawsuits.

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