Levitt & Dakota v. New Mexico Retiree Health Authority - Questions & Answers

February 5, 2007


Why has the ACLU chosen to file this lawsuit now?

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Refusing to allow lesbian and gay state employees the option of including their domestic partners on their state health insurance plan when they retire has created harm for the plaintiffs in this case, as well as other state retirees. These employees, who work just as hard as their colleagues, will be denied equal ability to cover their loved ones when they retire, causing real hardship. We filed this suit to ensure that this unfairness is addressed and that the couples involved in this lawsuit, as well as other future lesbian and gay retirees, are able to secure the health insurance they and their partners so desperately need.


Won't this be a big expense for the state's taxpayers?

No. When governments and businesses first started offering domestic partnership benefits, opponents often argued that the benefits would be costly. In the two decades since companies and state and local governments have been providing domestic partner benefits, studies have found that there is no significant increase to their healthcare costs. Implementing this change would only result in an additional 1.8% in claims dollars paid out by the authority.


Why is this important to New Mexicans?

New Mexico has one of the highest rates of uninsured in the country. Increasing the number of insured New Mexicans benefits us all. The costs of providing care for the uninsured represents a far greater economic burden than the costs of providing health insurance. In fact, a report from Families USA found that health insurance premiums for New Mexico families who have insurance were $1875 more expensive in 2005 because of the increased health care costs that resulted from the high number of people in the state without insurance. [http://www.familiesusa.org/resources/publications/reports/paying-a-premium-findings.html]


Don't employees already have access to domestic partner coverage?

In 2003, Governor Richardson issued an Executive Order that domestic partners, including same-sex couples, be included in the state's health care benefit system. But retiree health benefits are managed under a separate authority, so this mandate did not extend to retired employees and their domestic partners (same-sex or different-sex).


Why are you taking this issue to the courts? Shouldn't this issue be handled by the state legislature?

Senate Bill 502/House Bill 15, which is before the legislature now, would address this very issue by providing retired state employees the option of securing domestic partner health insurance. Hopefully the legislature will pass this bill, eliminating the need for this lawsuit. But the state has an obligation to treat all New Mexicans equally and when it fails in that obligation it is the courts' role to step in and correct the unfairness. Bringing this lawsuit now ensures that this critical issue is addressed if the legislature does not take responsibility for solving this inequity.


How will this case affect lesbian and gay couples in the state?

If successful, all lesbian and gay state employees will have access to domestic partner benefits after retirement.


Will this lawsuit affect private employers?

No. This case will only affect lesbian and gay employees of the state. However, a growing number of private employers have recognized the importance of providing domestic partner benefits to their lesbian and gay employees. According to the most recent statistics from the Human Rights Campaign, more than half of the Fortune 500 companies offer their employees domestic partner benefits.


Do other states offer domestic partner insurance benefits to lesbian and gay employees?

Yes. Thirteen states and the District of Columbia offer their employees domestic partner health benefits and more than 200 city, county and governmental agencies do so.


Have other courts ever addressed this issue and found that the state could not deny lesbian and gay employees the option of securing health insurance for their domestic partners?

Yes. In response to a lawsuit brought by the ACLU, the Alaska Supreme Court ruled that it was unconstitutional for the state to deny its employees access to the same employee benefits that it provides to married couples. The ACLU secured a similar ruling from the Supreme Court of Montana, which ruled that the University of Montana System cannot deny lesbian and gay employees the same option of purchasing health insurance benefits for their domestic partners that straight employees enjoy. An Oregon court has also ruled that the state must provide lesbian and gay employees with domestic partner benefits. The University of Pittsburgh ended an eight-year legal battle over benefits by agreeing to provide domestic partner coverage to its lesbian and gay employees. At the time of announcing the decision to give benefits, the Chancellor noted that the university needed to provide the benefits in order to remain competitive in recruiting top talent.


Won't this case open the door for same-sex couples to marry in the state?

No. The complaint filed in this lawsuit makes it very clear that we are only seeking equal access to health insurance for the domestic partners of retired lesbian and gay state employees. Courts do not address issues that they are not asked to address. Since the issue of marriage in New Mexico is not before the court, this case won't impact the rights of same-sex couples to marry.


What happens next in the case?

As required by state law, we filed the case in the trial court in Bernalillo County. At this point it is difficult to know how long the case will be in the trial court. We should have a better understanding after the state files its answer to the complaint filed today. The court may simply issue a decision in the case based on legal documents filed by the parties, or there may be a trial. Regardless of what happens at the trial level, this case is most likely headed for the New Mexico Supreme Court, which will have the ultimate say in the matter. It is likely to be several months before this case gets to the New Mexico Supreme Court.


Who is working on this lawsuit?

This lawsuit is being litigated by the ACLU of New Mexico, the ACLU's Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project, and cooperating attorney Maureen Sanders of of Sanders & Westbrook, P.C. Equality New Mexico, the statewide lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender advocacy organization, is working together with the ACLU on all fronts to end this unfairness.


How can I stay informed about developments in this lawsuit?

The ACLU will provide updates about the case, Novak and McCreary v. New Mexico Retiree Health Authority, at www.aclu.org/caseprofiles. Information will also be available on the ACLU of New Mexico's website at www.aclu-nm.org.

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