Lesbian Denied Unemployment Benefits Because She Isn't Married Appeals To State Unemployment Board

April 1, 2002 12:00 am

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NEW YORK – For the first time ever, New York State’s unemployment review board will consider whether benefits that are available to heterosexual spouses should also be available to same-sex partners. A lesbian who was denied unemployment benefits because she isn’t married to her partner filed an appeal today to the statewide board with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union.

People from New York who quit their jobs to relocate with their spouses – or even with people they are engaged to marry – qualify for unemployment. But when Jeanne Newland moved from Rochester to Richmond, Virginia, when her partner found a better job there, she learned that she was ineligible because she isn’t married to her partner. No state in the U.S. currently recognizes same-sex marriage.

“”It didn’t matter that I had paid into the unemployment system, that I’d spent six months applying for more than 150 jobs in this tight job market, or that Natasha and I have lived together for more than four years and are a committed couple by any definition,”” Newland said. “”All that mattered is that we’re lesbians and that we’re not married – because we aren’t able to be.””

The ACLU Lesbian & Gay Rights Project, representing Newland, filed papers today with the New York Unemployment Insurance Review Board. Decisions by officials on the board – who are appointed by the Governor – must be followed by unemployment offices throughout the state. The ACLU argues that if New York gives benefits to a spouse who leaves her job to relocate with her husband, the same should be true for same-sex partners, especially because the law is intended to help keep families together.

“”Tying benefits to marriage plainly discriminates against lesbian and gay people,”” said James Esseks, Litigation Director of the ACLU Lesbian & Gay Rights Project. “”The state didn’t mind that Jeanne Newland was a lesbian when they deducted unemployment taxes from her paychecks, and they shouldn’t deny her equal benefits because of it now.””

Newland, 38, and her partner, Natasha Doty, 34, met in Los Angeles and moved to Rochester in December 1998, where they bought a home together. Doty works in the computer technology field. Newland’s previous career as a police officer with the Los Angeles Police Department ended after she suffered a permanent injury in a high-speed pursuit. In Rochester, she worked as a technical support staffer for a local company. In February, she finally landed a new job at a bank in Richmond, but she continues fighting to recover the unemployment due to her for the long period when she was out of work.

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