Here in the great state of New York, marriage equality is the order of the day — as it is in five other states, plus D.C.. But due to the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal tax code does not recognize same-sex unions. As a result, as explained by the law firm of McCarter & English, “the Internal Revenue Code treats the value of employer-provided healthcare benefits for a civil union or domestic partner as ‘imputed income’ to the employee. This means that employees who elect domestic partner benefits must pay income tax on the value of those benefits, which is in direct contrast to employees with different-sex spouses.”
To address this inequality, a number of law firms — including McCarter & English, as of this June — have adopted what we here at Above the Law have dubbed the “gay gross-up.” This benefit consists of “a bump in income such that, post-tax, the employees are in the same position as similarly situated employees electing healthcare benefits for their opposite-sex spouses.”
In addition to McCarter, a number of prominent law firms have adopted this policy since our last report. Let’s find out which ones….
UPDATE (8/25/11): We’ve added to the list since it was originally published. See the updated list below.
As many of you know, here at Above the Law we have been tracking which major law firms offer a non-salary benefit that we’ve dubbed the gay gross-up. As we’ve previously explained, quoting a memo issued by Simpson Thacher, the gay gross-up is “[a] ‘gross-up’ for employees who enroll same-sex partners in the Firm’s health benefits plans to offset any federal, state and local income taxes paid on the value of the partners’ benefits which heterosexual spouses are not subject to.”
Today we are pleased to report that two top firms have joined the club. Kudos to Debevoise & Plimpton and Shearman & Sterling for standing on the side of equality. You can read their announcement memos, issued earlier this month, after the jump.
We have added these firms to our list. By the way, for those firms that would rather appear on a list maintained by the New York Times than one maintained by Above the Law, you should note that the NYT is also monitoring which workplaces provide this perk. The NYT list includes employers of many different types, not just law firms, and features some of the nation’s most innovative companies, such as Google and Facebook and Apple.
With the addition of Debevoise and Shearman, which leading law firms provide this benefit? Let’s take a look….
The case for same-sex marriage should rest less upon dollars and cents and more upon fundamental principles of fairness (as recently argued by Professor Jaye Cee Whitehead in a New York Times op-ed piece). But it’s certainly the case that money matters should not be overlooked when it comes to marriage equality.
We’ve previously discussed a non-salary benefit that we’ve nicknamed the gay gross-up. Here’s one concise definition: “A ‘gross-up’ for employees who enroll same-sex partners in the Firm’s health benefits plans to offset any federal, state and local income taxes paid on the value of the partners’ benefits which heterosexual spouses are not subject to.” (Currently gay couples in which partners receive employer-provided health benefits are taxed on the value of those benefits, due to the fact that, thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), federal law — including federal tax law — doesn’t recognize same-sex unions.)
The gross-up is not a perk that affects a huge number of employees, to be sure. But having it sends an important message about a firm’s commitment to equality and inclusion.
Where did we obtain that handy definition of the gross-up? From the benefits page of a top law firm that recently started offering this benefit. It’s one of two elite law firms that recently boarded the gay gross-up bandwagon….
Here’s some very belated bonus news. Earlier this month, the New York office of Linklaters announced bonuses that matched the Cravath scale.
As usual at Linklaters, there was no hours requirement. The news was communicated via individual memo.
A Cravath match, especially in a bonus season when some firms are paying significantly more, kinda sucks isn’t that exciting. A Cravath bonus won’t get a Linklaters associate a pad as palatial as that of Linklaters partner Michael Bassett. Heck, $35K — the top of the Cravath scale — probably won’t even cover the cost of Bassett’s wallpaper.
But we’ll point out two nice things about Linklaters, both relating to tax issues….
At least one law firm is stepping up to the plate to help domestically-partnered employees with their health-benefit-related tax burdens. The firm of Morrison & Foerster issued the following statement to Above the Law, from firm chair Keith Wetmore: “Starting in 2011, Morrison & Foerster will begin offering an additional benefit payment to assist with the tax obligation that same-sex and opposite sex Staff and Non-Partner Attorneys pay when they elect Domestic Partner health benefits.”
This is excellent news, and we commend MoFo for taking this step. Hopefully it will inspire additional firms to move in this direction. Note also that the policy applies not just to same-sex couples, but also to opposite-sex couples who are similarly situated — which might be a way of addressing the criticismsof some that the gay gross-up is unfair to heterosexual couples.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in “law firms being nice to gay people” news, let’s give some props to Shearman & Sterling….
If you’re a gay employee and have a domestic partner who receives health benefits through your employer, you have to pay more in federal income tax — about $1,000 a year, on average. This is because federal law, thanks to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), doesn’t recognize same-sex marriages. As a result, the feds treat employer-provided health benefits for domestic partners as a form of taxable income (if the partner is not considered a dependent).
(Note, however, that this could change. A federal judge in Boston recently struck down part of DOMA. Stay tuned to find out what happens on appeal.)
Earlier this month, we wrote about a perk that Google extends to its gay employees who find themselves in this situation. As reported by the New York Times, Google “essentially [covers] those costs, putting same-sex couples on an even footing with heterosexual employees whose spouses and families receive health benefits.” Google makes an extra payment to gay employees to make up for the increased tax burden — a perk that we dubbed “Google’s gay gross-up.”
We asked you, our readers, if any legal employers also offer this benefit. As it turns out, several do.
Find out which employers provide this perk — and vote in a poll on its fairness, which was hotly debated in the comments to our prior post — after the jump.
[Last] Thursday, Google [began] covering a cost that gay and lesbian employees must pay when their partners receive domestic partner health benefits, largely to compensate them for an extra tax that heterosexual married couples do not pay. The increase will be retroactive to the beginning of the year.
“It’s a fairly cutting edge thing to do,” said Todd A. Solomon, a partner in the employee benefits department of McDermott Will & Emery, a law firm in Chicago, and author of “Domestic Partner Benefits: An Employer’s Guide.”
Why do gay and lesbian employees pay more in taxes to begin with?
Ed. note: The Asia Chronicles column is authored by Kinney Recruiting. Kinney has made more placements of U.S. associates, counsels and partners in Asia than any other recruiting firm in each of the past six years. You can reach them by email: [email protected].
Since late last year, things have been booming in Hong Kong / China in cap markets, especially Hong Kong IPOs. M&A deal flow has recently been getting a bit stronger as well. Although one can’t predict such things with any certainty, all signs are pointing to a banner entire 2014 for the top end US corporate and cap markets practices in Hong Kong / China. This is not really new news, as its been the feeling most in the market have had for a few months now and things continue to look good.
The head of our Asia practice, Evan Jowers, has been in Hong Kong for about 10 days a month (with trips every other month to both Shanghai and Bejing) for the past 7 months, and spending most of his time there meeting with senior US hiring partners at just about all the major US and UK firms there, as well as prospective candidates at all associate levels and partner levels, and when in the US, Evan works Asia hours and is regularly on the phone with such persons, as our the other members of our Asia team. Our Yuliya Vinokurova is in Hong Kong every other month and Robert is there about 5 times a year as well. While we have a solid Asia team of recruiters, Evan Jowers will spend at least some time with all of our candidates for Asia position. We have had long standing relationships, and good friendships in some cases, with hiring partners and other senior US partners in Asia for 8 years now.
The evolution of relationships between the genders continues. Currently, in law firms, there is an interesting conundrum; balancing the desire for a gender-blind workplace where “the best lawyer gets the work and advances” and the reality of navigating the complicated maze created by the fact that, in general, men and women do possess differences in their work styles. These variations impact who they work with, how they work, how they build professional connections and how organizations ultimately leverage, reward and recognize the talents of all.
Henry Ford sat on his workbench and sighed. A year earlier, he had personally built 13,000 Model Ts with his own hands. Fashioning lugnuts and tie rods by hand, Ford was loath to ask for help. Sure, there were things about the car that he didn’t quite understand. This explains the lack of reliable navigation systems in the Model T. But Ford persevered because he knew that unless he did everything, he could not reliably call these cars his own.
“Unless my own personal toil is responsible for it, it may as well be called a Hyundai,” Ford remarked at the time.
The preceding may sound unfamiliar because it is categorically untrue. And also monumentally stupid. Henry Ford didn’t build all those cars by hand. He had help and plenty of it. Almost exactly one hundred years ago, Henry Ford opened up the most technologically advanced assembly line the world had ever seen. Built on the premise that work can be chopped up into digestible pieces and completed by many men better than one, the line ushered in an age of unparalleled productivity.
Today, an attorney refers business because he can’t do everything the client asks of him.
There are three reasons why this is way dumber than a made-up Henry Ford story…