State investigates claim that O’Reilly Auto Parts refuses same-sex health benefits

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The state attorney general is investigating whether O’Reilly Auto Parts is refusing to provide the same health-care benefits to same-sex spouses of its employees in Washington state that it provides to opposite-sex spouses, in violation of the state’s Consumer Protection Act.

The agency filed a petition in King County Superior Court on Monday to enforce “a civil investigative demand” — a sort of broad, beefed up subpoena — that it issued to O’Reilly in January as part of an ongoing investigation.

The state said the company has not provided a complete response to its demand. Based in Springfield, Mo., O’Reilly operates a national chain of auto-parts stores and employs about 2,194 people at 147 sites in Washington.

Officials at the headquarters could not be reached for comment late Monday. But in documents O’Reilly provided the attorney general, it said it is self-insured for health coverage and federal laws that regulate such plans trump state law and preempt the state’s authority to investigate it.

The AG’s consumer-protection division initiated the investigation after an employee at one of its stores complained that the company told him it wouldn’t provide health-care benefits to his same-sex spouse.

Under state law, Washington employers may not deny benefits to the spouses of employees in same-sex marriages that they provide to opposite-sex couples.

In a statement, the AG’s Office said the ongoing investigation was to determine if the company violated the Consumer Protection Act, which prohibits deceptive business practices, including acts that would discriminate against consumers in a commercial setting.

Once it receives the information it has requested from O’Reilly, the Attorney General’s Office will consider next steps, including possibly filing a lawsuit.

Last year, the attorney general filed a suit under the same law against a Richland florist who refused to provide flowers for the same-sex wedding of long-time customers.

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