Lambda Legal Argues before U.S. Ninth Circuit to Protect Domestic Partner Benefits for Gay and Lesbian Arizona State Employees
(San Francisco, February 14, 2011)—The state of Arizona has no valid reason for placing its lesbian and gay employees on a lower pay scale than heterosexuals, Lambda Legal today told a three-judge panel of the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The oral arguments were part of a case to block a law stripping domestic partner benefits from gay and lesbian state employees.
"This is an issue of equal pay for equal work," said Tara Borelli, the Lambda Legal staff attorney who argued the case. "Arizona's gay employees clock in at the same jobs, perform the same valuable service, and deserve the same compensation."
Lambda Legal represents 10 state employees—including from Arizona's Highway Patrol Division, Game and Fish Department, and state universities—who rely on health benefits from their employers to safeguard their families' health, as heterosexual workers do. Arizona lawmakers included a provision eliminating family health coverage for gay state employees as part of a last-minute budget deal signed by Gov. Janice Brewer in 2009, while retaining family health coverage for heterosexual workers. Last July, U.S. District Judge John Sedwick recognized the unequal and severe hardship the law creates for gay workers, and granted a preliminary injunction blocking the law from taking effect. Attorney General Terry Goddard appealed the injunction to the Ninth Circuit.
Plaintiff Deanna Pfleger, an officer with the Arizona Game and Fish Department, attended the hearing with partner Mia LaBarbara. "My job regularly puts me in danger, but taking away our health benefits would jeopardize my family," said Pfleger. "Mia depends on the benefits we receive through my job. We have the same need for family health coverage as my heterosexual colleagues, and this, in effect, docks my pay in comparison to them."
Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Tara Borelli argued the case, with Jennifer C. Pizer of Lambda Legal, and Daniel C. Barr and Rhonda L. Barnes of the law firm of Perkins, Coie, Brown and Baine as co-counsel. The case is Collins v. Brewer.
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Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education and public policy work.