Attorney General’s investigation results in health coverage to same-sex spouses

After Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a petition in court regarding its investigation of O’Reilly Automotive Inc.’s policy of not providing healthcare benefits to the same-sex spouses of its Washington employees, O’Reilly announced it will now extend healthcare coverage to same-sex spouses of its employees in Washington and other states recognizing marriage equality. This new healthcare policy is effective April 1, 2014.

After a consumer contacted our office, the Attorney General Consumer Protection Division started an investigation to determine if O’Reilly was refusing to provide healthcare benefits to same-sex spouses of Washington state employees that it provides for opposite-sex spouses.

“This is great news for all O’Reilly employees and their families,” said Ferguson. “My office will work to protect the legal rights of all Washington residents and uphold our laws related to marriage equality. If a business provides benefits to opposite-sex spouses, it must provide the same benefits to same-sex spouses.”

O’Reilly had failed to provide a complete response to a Civil Investigative Demand and had refused to produce any documents related to its decision not to provide benefits. As a result, on March 17, 2014, the AGO filed a petition in King County Superior Court to enforce the Civil Investigative Demand issued to O’Reilly.

O’Reilly is a Fortune 500 company. It is a publicly traded auto parts company based out of Missouri. The company has approximately 4,166 stores in 42 states. It has 147 stores and employs 2,194 people in Washington state. Today’s policy change will apply nationwide, impacting all employees who are legally married.

The investigation sought to determine whether O’Reilly violated the Washington State Consumer Protection Act, which prohibits unfair or deceptive business practices.

The Consumer Protection Act authorizes the Attorney General to serve Civil Investigative Demands to any person or business to obtain information the AGO believes is relevant to an investigation. The AGO can file a petition in court to enforce the Civil Investigative Demand if the recipient doesn’t produce all required information.

With this outcome, the AGO will now close the O’Reilly investigation.

Assistant Attorney General Kim Gunning was lead on this investigation.

Background on anti-discrimination and same-sex marriage laws in Washington

Sexual orientation discrimination is unlawful in Washington. In addition to other protections, the Consumer Protection Act broadly prohibits unfair or deceptive acts or practices in trade or commerce, including acts that would discriminate against consumers in a commercial setting.

In 2012, the Legislature approved Senate Bill 6239, legalizing same-sex marriage. Opponents garnered enough signatures to refer the measure to voters. Voters approved Referendum 74 by nearly 54 percent at the November election — making Washington one of the first three states to legalize same-sex marriage by popular vote. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage.

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