State Agency Hears Appeal Friday from Lesbian Who Was Denied Unemployment Benefits Because She Isn't Married

January 24, 2002 12:00 am

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NEW YORK – A lesbian who was denied unemployment benefits by the State of New York because she isn’t married to her same-sex partner will ask a state agency to reconsider its decision tomorrow with backing from the American Civil Liberties Union.

People from New York who quit their jobs to relocate with their husbands or wives – or even with people they are just engaged to marry – qualify for unemployment. But when Jeanne Newland moved from Rochester to Richmond, Virginia, because her partner took a job there, she learned that people in same-sex relationships are ineligible. No state in the U.S. currently marries same-sex couples.

“”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 a New York State Department of Labor administrative law judge arguing that the denial of unemployment violates the state labor laws and the state and federal constitutions.

“”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, continues looking for work in Richmond. Her partner, Natasha Doty, 34, works in the computer technology field. The women met in Los Angeles and moved to Rochester together in December 1998, where they bought a home together. 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.

Friday’s hearing will be at 9 a.m. before Administrative Law Judge Allan Hymes at the Department of Labor’s offices at 109 South Union Street, Room 301, in Rochester. The next stage of appeal would be before a statewide board in Albany – then the case could be taken into state court.

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