What's at Stake
(Formerly Helgeland v. Wisconsin)
Virginia Wolf and her long-time partner, Carol Schumacher, are plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
The ACLU is suing the state of Wisconsin on behalf of six lesbian employees and their partners seeking domestic partner health insurance and family leave protections, which the state currently provides only to employees and their spouses. The lawsuit charges that it violates the state constitution’s equal protection guarantees to block lesbian and gay employees, who are barred from marrying in the state, from access to the same coverage for their families. Today, as governments, universities, companies and other employers increasingly extend benefits to employees’ domestic partners, the University of Wisconsin is now the only Big Ten university that does not offer domestic partner benefits. Among the plaintiffs are several women who spend hundreds of dollars more per month because their partners have significant health problems and little or no insurance coverage. Another plaintiff is a woman who, when her partner of 20 years was injured in a car accident in another state, had to submit a formal vacation request and then wait for five days before she could go to her side.
Status: On May 29, 2009, the trial court dismissed the case. In a lengthy decision, the court reasoned that it is unconstitutional for the state to deny benefits, but that it was bound by a Wisconsin Court of Appeals ruling from 1992. Because the state legislature passed a domestic partnership bill that provided everything sought by the plaintiffs, plaintiffs and ACLU did not appeal the trial court’s decision.