Supreme Court Gay Rights Ruling Advances ACLU's Lawsuit Against University of Pittsburgh Over Gay Employee Benefits

July 29, 2003 12:00 am

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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

PITTSBURGH – In its seven-year gay-rights battle to force the University of Pittsburgh to provide healthcare benefits to gay employees’ domestic partners, the American Civil Liberties Union today advised the trial court that the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling last month in Lawrence v. Texas requires it to reject the University’s most recent attempt to end the litigation.

“”The Supreme Court’s recent gay rights ruling means Pitt will have a much harder time ending our discrimination case and weaseling out of providing domestic partnership benefits to gay employees,”” said Witold “”Vic”” Walczak, Legal Director of the ACLU’s Pittsburgh affiliate.

“”The special law passed by the General Assembly in 1999, which negated application of any municipal law that required state or state-related universities from being forced to provide health insurance or other employee-health-care benefits, was clearly motivated by anti-gay bias. And the U.S. Supreme Court has now held that such bigoted laws are unconstitutional.””

In a supplemental brief filed today, the ACLU pointed out that the University’s main argument for trying to avoid this litigation, namely, a 1999 Pennsylvania law passed largely to thwart attempts (like the ACLU’s lawsuit) to force state-related universities to give domestic-partner-health benefits, is unconstitutional following the Supreme Court’s decision.

The university, which lobbied for the law, has admitted that the law was passed for the purpose of denying lesbians and gay men access to equal health benefits for their partners. Additionally, after signing the bill into law, a spokesperson for then-governor Tom Ridge was quoted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as saying, “”The governor believes marriage is a heterosexual institution. We see what’s happening in Pittsburgh as an [intrusion] . . . on the institution of marriage.””

The university relied heavily on this law to persuade the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas to issue an order in April 2000 preventing the ACLU’s discrimination lawsuit from going forward before the Pittsburgh Human Rights Commission. The university has since filed a motion asking the court to dismiss the case. The brief filed by the ACLU today addresses that motion, urging the court to let the case proceed to trial.

“”Now that the Supreme Court has said that lesbian and gay relationships must be respected, Pitt should seriously consider the message it would be sending to its students if it chooses to continue denying gay employees the same benefits it gives to heterosexual workers,”” said Leslie Cooper, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. “”Universities should be setting examples for young people, not encouraging prejudice and discrimination.””

Since the litigation started, more and more colleges and universities around the country have voluntarily agreed to offer domestic partnership benefits to lesbian and gay employees. In fact, this past February both Temple and Drexel Universities in Pennsylvania announced plans to do so.

To help lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender employees take advantage of the Supreme Court’s recent ruling for gay equality, the ACLU has developed materials that gay employees can use to advocate for domestic partnership benefits in their place of business. The tools, available at www.aclu.org/getequal, include comprehensive instructions for launching a workplace campaign for equal benefits, as well as sample policies.

To read the ACLU’s supplemental brief, visit /node/35006

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