ACLU Continues Fight for Domestic Partnership Benefits for Gay Employees of the University of Pittsburgh

January 21, 2004 12:00 am

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PITTSBURGH – The American Civil Liberties Union filed notice today that it is appealing a recent decision by a trial judge preventing lesbian and gay employees from going forward with their challenge to the University of Pittsburgh’s policy of denying them access to health insurance and other employee benefits for their domestic partners.

“”Pitt may be breathing a sigh of relief that it can continue to discriminate against its gay employees, but this fight is far from over,”” said Chris Biancheria, a cooperating attorney for the ACLU. “”We expected all along that this case was headed for the appeals courts.””

The ACLU is appealing a January 12th decision by Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County, which prevents the Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relations from deciding whether Pitt is in violation of a city law prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. The ACLU originally brought suit in 1996 before the Commission on Human Relations on behalf of seven current and former university employees who were unable to obtain health insurance for their domestic partners because of Pitt’s policy. Before the case could be heard, Pitt went before the Court of Common Pleas and got a temporary order preventing the Commission on Human Relations from hearing the case. The January 12th decision makes that order permanent.

“”Over the eight years that this case has been going on, Pitt has proven again and again that it is committed to treating its lesbian and gay faculty and staff as second class employees,”” said Witold “”Vic”” Walczak, Legal Director of the ACLU’s Pittsburgh affiliate. “”Nearly every other respected research university now offers equal benefits to lesbian and gay employees. When is it going to sink in to university administrators that this policy is both wrong and bad for the university?””

The Judge’s January 12th decision to stop to the lawsuit from going forward was based largely on a law by the General Assembly that was passed in 1999. The law said that state-related colleges and universities cannot be required to provide health benefits because of municipal laws. The university lobbied for the law, which was passed for the specific purpose of denying lesbians and gay men access to equal health benefits for their partners.

Since this litigation began, more and more colleges and universities have voluntarily agreed to provide domestic partnership benefits to lesbian and gay employees. At least 198 colleges and universities across the country now do so. In February 2003, both Temple and Drexel Universities in Pennsylvania began offering their gay employees domestic partnership benefits.

The ACLU has appealed the case to Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania, which will hear the appeal later this year.

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