ACLU Lawsuit Seeks Equal Benefits for Alaska's Gay and Lesbian Employees
ANCHORAGE -- Saying that gay and lesbian couples should not be treated like second-class citizens, the Alaska Civil Liberties Union today filed suit on behalf of itself and eight lesbian or gay state and municipal employees and their partners who are barred from sharing the health, pension and insurance privileges that they earn from their government jobs.
The AkCLU's lawsuit, filed with the ACLU's National Lesbian and Gay Rights Project today in state superior court, comes nearly a year after Alaska's voters approved a Constitutional amendment prohibiting recognition of marriage between same-sex partners.
While the lawsuit does not seek to invalidate the marriage initiative, the AkCLU charges that, in light of the state's prohibition, using marriage as the litmus test for employment privileges constitutes discrimination on the basis of both sexual orientation and gender.
"The government can't refuse equal treatment to an employee simply because of the gender of that employee's life partner," said Jennifer Rudinger, Executive Director of the AkCLU. "Alaskans may not agree on the issue of marriage, but I hope we can all agree that employees deserve to be treated fairly."
In its complaint, the AkCLU charged that the government's discrimination jeopardizes their clients' "security and stability and interferes with their ability to structure the primary activities of their lives together."
For example, the law bars Juneau resident Lin Davis, a Community Development Specialist with the Alaska Department of Labor, from sharing her health coverage, pension and other benefits with her partner of 11 years, Maureen Longworth.
As a result, Longworth, who works for a private employer, recently had to pay nearly $20,000 out of pocket for dental work that would have been covered under her partner's plan.
Likewise, Carla Timpone of Douglas, Alaska, had to give up her health coverage when she gave up state employment to care for her ailing mother. Even though her partner of 20 years, Shirley Dean, is still a state employee, Timpone is not eligible to take advantage of Dean's health insurance coverage. Timpone had to take another job near her mother's home simply to retain her health coverage while she tried to care for the family after her mother's death.
As an alternative to making marriage the sole determinant for benefits, the ACLU said, government employers could add domestic partner registration and/or an affidavit of domestic partnership as alternative criteria. These criteria are commonly used by other employers.
Currently, the ACLU said, dozens of municipal and state governments have extended domestic partnership benefits or recognition to their employees. Governor Davis of California recently signed legislation to extend domestic partner benefits to all California state employees, and the state of Oregon was ordered by a state court to extend benefits to state employees last year.
The case is Alaska Civil Liberties Union et al. v. State of Alaska. Attorneys in the case are Jennifer Middleton of the ACLU's National Lesbian and Gay Rights Project; Tobias B. Wolff of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind & Garrison in New York, and Allison Mendel of Mendel & Associates in Anchorage.
The following information can be found on the ACLU's website:
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