ACLU Ends Discrimination Lawsuit Against the University of Pittsburgh Following Decision to Provide Equal Benefits to Gay Employees

October 5, 2004 12:00 am

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PITTSBURGH – Following a decision by the University of Pittsburgh to provide domestic partner health coverage to its lesbian and gay employees, the American Civil Liberties Union today withdrew a legal challenge to the university’s prior refusal to provide the benefits, ending an eight-year legal battle.

“This lawsuit was always about equal treatment for lesbian and gay employees. Now that the University has agreed to provide equal health benefits, we’ve won,” said Christine Biancheria, an ACLU cooperating attorney who has been working on the case since 1995. “The plaintiffs were never in this for the money. They are very pleased with the outcome and are ready to put this behind them.”

The ACLU originally brought suit against the University in 1996 on behalf of seven current and former university employees who were denied health insurance for their domestic partners even though the University provided such coverage to its married employees.

After vigorously defending the lawsuit for over eight years, the University announced on September 2, 2004, that it would offer lesbian and gay employees as well as unmarried heterosexual employees in committed relationships health insurance benefits for their domestic partners. A letter by chancellor Mark Nordenberg notifying employees of the change in policy cited the need to remain competitive in the recruitment of “top talent” as a principal factor in deciding to provide the benefits.

“A lot of people have worked tirelessly to bring this litigation and to make Pitt realize how unfair this policy was to its lesbian and gay employees,” said Witold “Vic” Walczak, Litigation Director for the ACLU’s Pennsylvania affiliate. “We’re happy to be ending this lengthy ordeal and relieved to know that Pitt’s lesbian and gay employees will no longer have to struggle to provide health insurance for their families.”

Walczak also singled out for praise the plaintiffs and the private attorneys who volunteered thousands of hours of their time to this, the Pennsylvania ACLU’s oldest case: “Deb Henson and the six other Pitt employees courageously stuck their necks out to advance human rights at Pitt. And without the thousands of hours of volunteer time donated by the private attorneys, this case would never happened. The community owes these people a huge debt of gratitude.”

The ACLU’s cooperating attorneys in this lawsuit are Biancheria of the firm Biancheria, Eriksen Maliver & Angell; Roslyn M. Litman, and E.J. Strassburger of Strassburger, McKenna, Gutnick & Potter.

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