ACLU Urges Court to Grant Lesbian Equal Treatment in Unemployment Benefits

February 13, 2003 12:00 am

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NEW YORK– The American Civil Liberties Union will file a brief in its appeal tomorrow on behalf of a lesbian who was denied unemployment benefits after she left her job in Rochester to relocate with her life partner.

“In a state where protections against discrimination have just been extended to lesbian, bisexual, and gay people and where same-sex relationships have been recognized in many contexts for years, the Department of Labor is clearly wrong here,” said Romana Mancini, an ACLU attorney who represents Newland. Recent state policies have extended similar recognition to surviving same-sex partners of crime victims and September 11 victims.

Jeanne Newland left her job as a technical support representative for a computer education company in 2000 to be with her partner, who had taken a higher paying job in Virginia. After the couple moved, Newland looked aggressively for employment, but had no luck. Nine months later Newland still hadn’t found employment, so she went to the unemployment office to check out job leads, where a staff member suggested she apply for unemployment benefits from the state of New York.

“My partner and I have been together for almost six years,” said Newland. “If we could get married, we would. Yet we’re not eligible for the same benefits that go to married straight couples. That simply isn’t fair.”

Under New York law, people who leave their jobs for “good cause” are entitled to unemployment benefits. Married people are routinely granted unemployment benefits when they relocate with a spouse, and heterosexual couples who are engaged but not yet married have also been granted benefits. When Newland applied for benefits, however, she was denied because she is not married to her partner.

The ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project began its appeal on Newland’s behalf over a year ago, but so far the denial of benefits has been upheld. In its brief to the appeals court this Friday, the ACLU argues that the New York Department of Labor unnecessarily imposed a marriage requirement in violation of state case law and public policy.

In re Claim of Newland is being appealed to the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, Third Department in Albany.

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