deGroen v. City of Bellevue

Summary

Every day Larry deGroen, Faun Patzer and George Einsetler clock in for their jobs, they work with married colleagues who are paid more for performing identical tasks. As part of employees’ compensation, the city of Bellevue provides valuable family benefits to its married employees for their spouses and children but refuses to provide comparable benefits to its gay and lesbian employees for their loved ones. Patzer and deGroen are firefighters and paramedics for the city; Einsetler is a lead “911” dispatcher for the city. Each has served the city for more than 10 years with distinction. Each is in a committed relationship with a same-sex partner and has made the same pledges of love and support that their married colleagues make. The plaintiffs sued the city of Bellevue seeking equal family benefits as a basic issue of fairness. A few months later the Bellevue City Council approves equal family benefits plan for lesbian, gay and other unmarried employees in committed relationships, and directs city staff to begin implementation. Lambda Legal filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit soon after.

Context

Employment benefits provide critical protections for employees and their families, including the ability to provide health insurance to one’s spouse through an employer’s health care plan. While employment benefits make a dramatic difference to the working people who receive them, the costs to employers of including gay and lesbian life partners generally are negligible and allow employers to be more competitive by recruiting and retaining top talent. Many employers — including Washington State and many city and county employers in Washington — have learned this cost-benefits lesson and offer domestic partner benefits.

Lambda Legal's Impact

The ruling in this case establishes the right of gay and lesbian public employees in Washington to receive the same family benefits for their committed life partners as offered to married heterosexual public employees.

History

  • April 2007: Lambda Legal and Newman & Newman, LLP file constitutional lawsuit in state court in Seattle seeking family benefits for gay and lesbian municipal workers in the city of Bellevue.
  • June 2007: Bellevue City Council approves equal family benefits plan for lesbian, gay and other unmarried employees in committed relationships, and directs city staff to begin implementation.
  • August 2007: After a successful implementation of equal family benefits for lesbian, gay and other unmarried employees in committed relationships, Lambda Legal filed papers to drop the lawsuit against the City of Bellevue.
  • September 2007: On September 17, 2007 the deGroen v. City of Bellevue case is officially closed.

Case Information

Status: Closed

Clients

Faun Patzer and Carrie Wurzburg, George Einsetler and Cameron Murdock, Larry deGroen and Thomas Dixon

Attorneys

Lambda Legal
Jennifer C. Pizer, Tara Borelli

Co-counsel/Cooperating Attorneys
Derek A. Newman of Newman & Newman, Attorneys at Law, LLP