New York to Recognize Same-Sex Couples in Unemployment Insurance

Affiliate: ACLU of New York
February 11, 2004 12:00 am

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NEW YORK- In response to a case brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, the New York State Department of Labor has agreed to policy changes that will recognize same-sex relationships in determining eligibility for unemployment insurance.

“”We are very pleased that the Department of Labor has recognized that same-sex couples in committed relationships should not be discriminated against in unemployment insurance simply because they are not allowed to marry their partners,”” said James Esseks, Litigation Director for the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. “”Because of this policy change, lesbian and gay New Yorkers who relocate to be with their partners will be eligible for unemployment benefits.””

The ACLU represents Jeanne Newland, who left her job in Rochester to be with her partner, who had accepted a higher paying job in Virginia. After nine months of searching for a job, Newland was urged by the local unemployment office to file for benefits from the state of New York, which regularly grants such benefits to married couples and occasionally to engaged couples in these circumstances.

The Department of Labor as well as the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board initially denied Newland’s request for benefits. Last June, after the ACLU filed an appeal in the New York courts and New York’s statewide LGBT civil rights group, Empire State Pride Agenda, raised the issue with Governor Pataki, the appeal board agreed to reconsider its decision.

“”This is wonderful news,”” said Alan Van Capelle, Executive Director of the Empire State Pride Agenda. “”The Department of Labor understands that love and commitment makes a family. We applaud the Department’s decision to permanently change its policy to recognize that all New York families need to be supported by their government.””

The Department of Labor outlined its change of policy in a letter to the appeal board, asking the board to give Newland the benefits. In the letter, the Department of Labor points out that, like married couples, unmarried couples in committed relationships may also have “”good cause”” for leaving a job to follow their partners.

“”It was difficult struggling to get by on only one income, but it all seems worth it knowing that I have made a difference for other lesbian and gay couples who find themselves in the same position I was in,” said Jeanne Newland.

While the Unemployment Insurance Appeal Board is still deciding whether to give Newland the benefits, it would be unusual for the appeal board to ignore the wishes of the Department of Labor. Because of the department’s change of policy, lesbian and gay New Yorkers who relocate to be with their partners can seek unemployment benefits. Couples in this position will have to provide proof of a “”long-term committed relationship.””

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