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Google Raises Eyebrows With New Gay-Only Employee Benefit

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Google says it will pay homosexual employees who include domestic partners on their health insurance plans more money to make up for the federal taxes they pay on that benefit.AP

A new Google policy is raising some eyebrows after the company revealed it will be compensating employees for taxes paid on domestic partners' health benefits – but only if they’re gay.

The company said in its blog Thursday, that it will be “grossing-up imputed taxes on health insurance benefits for all same-sex domestic partners in the United States.”

In other words, the company will be paying homosexual employees who include domestic partners on their health insurance plans more money to make up for the federal taxes they pay on that benefit. (Married couples don't have to pay taxes on spousal health benefits.)

But under Google's new policy, the company isn't offering any extra pay to heterosexual domestic partners, because it says heterosexual employees have the option of avoiding the tax by getting married.

Daryl Herrschaft, director of the Workplace Project at Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights advocacy group, says Google's policy is a step in the right direction.

“They’re picking up the slack where the federal government hasn’t recognized the reality of diversity in the workforce today,” Herschaft told FoxNews.com. “This is eliminating existing discrimination that ... gays and lesbians face in the workplace as result of federal law that doesn’t acknowledge their families.”

But Focus on the Family, a Christian organization aimed at providing practical help for marriage and parenting, says this far from levels the playing field.

“If Google wants to be truly fair to its employees, it should consider extra compensation to married heterosexuals who are bitten every April 15 by the marriage-penalty tax,” spokesman Gary Schneeberger told FoxNews.com. “How is offering more money to only one group to offset a perceived inequity not a form of discrimination against those groups not fortunate enough to receive such bonuses?”

Fox News legal analyst Lis Wiehl says even if the idea seems good in practice, it could become a legal issue because it's deciding which domestic partners get these benefits based solely on sexual orientation.

“There’s a potential for a reverse discrimination suit because of the equal pay for equal work statute which says that if I’m doing the same job as the person next to me that my marital status or sexual orientation shouldn’t be taken into consideration. It’s my work performance that should be taken into consideration,” Wiehl told FoxNews.com.

As for the disparity in the federal tax structure, Wiehl says, legally, it has nothing to do with the employer: You get paid a salary, and it's up to you to pay your taxes, not your employer.

Google's not the first company to implement such a policy.

The Kimpton hotel and restaurant chain is one example of another company that "grosses up imputed taxes" on domestic partner benefits.  But unlike Google, Kimpton's policies do not single out same-sex couples. 

"It didn’t even come as a thought to us to not open it up to everyone. When we designed all of our policies we try to see to it that they’re inclusive to everybody so that  we cover all of our employees," Alan Baer, senior vice president of people and information for the Kimpton Hotel Group told FoxNews.com. "So if heterosexual couples choose to be in domestic partnership, why would we discriminate against them?" 

But Google doesn’t seem concerned, calling its policy "another reason to celebrate."

In addition to the added compensation, the company says as it will also be providing the equivalent of the Family and Medical Leave Act for all same-sex domestic partners and is working with its insurance carriers to eliminate the one-year waiting period to qualifying for infertility benefits.

“Google supports its LGBT employees in many ways: raising its voice in matters of policy, taking a moment to remember the plight of transgender people around the world and going the extra mile to ensure that its employees are treated fairly,” the company said in the blog.

The company says its new health benefits compensation will be retroactive to January 1, 2010.

Google denied requests to comment any further on the policy.