Air Transport Association v. City and County of San Francisco
(LOS ANGELES, November 10, 2000) — Helping fend off attacks from the airline industry and a conservative Christian group, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund again stands with San Francisco in defense of the city’s landmark Equal Benefits Ordinance.
On Tuesday, November 14, the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit hears argument in two related cases, Air Transport Association v. San Francisco and S.D. Myers v. San Francisco. After the hearing, Managing Attorney Jennifer C. Pizer of Lambda’s Western Regional Office will be available for comment outside the courthouse. Lambda joins other amici in support of San Francisco’s position that the city can require its contractors to provide comparable partner benefits to all employees regardless of marital status or sexual orientation.
“Since San Francisco’s landmark Equal Benefits Ordinance was enacted in 1997, hundreds more companies across the country have begun offering domestic partner benefits – from the ‘Big Three’ automakers to Pacbell/SBC, Chevron, J.P. Morgan and the San Francisco 49ers,” said Pizer.
“Public entities like San Francisco, Seattle, Los Angeles and Broward County don’t want to subsidize discrimination, and have a right to choose vendors and contractors that treat their employees fairly,” she said, noting that the cities of Seattle and Los Angeles have since adopted San Francisco-style legislation for their contracts, and Florida’s Broward County has taken a similar step.
San Francisco was the first city to stop granting city contracts to companies with benefit plans that discriminate against unmarried employees, including lesbians and gay men.
Defending the law from challenges by the airline industry association and a self-proclaimed conservative Christian private contractor, Lambda joined with the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and the ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project to provide amicus support to the city.
In April 1998, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken upheld most of the law but agreed with ATA that airlines should be exempted from the Equal Benefits Ordinance’s (EBO) health insurance and pension plan provisions, finding that those are governed by the federal Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).
Then, in May 1999, Judge Wilken ordered that airlines using city property must grant non-ERISA family benefits to their unmarried workers. At the same time, she dismissed the entire S.D. Myers case, brought by televangelist Pat Robertson’s American Center for Law and Justice, which asserted that the EBO violates California’s marriage laws.
Both ATA and S.D. Myers appealed, although United Airlines, American Airlines, and U.S. Airways now voluntarily provide full family benefits to their gay and lesbian employees, and Continental, Delta, Northwest and Southwest Airlines are in the process of implementing some type of domestic partner benefit plan. In Atlanta, Chicago, New York, Santa Barbara, and Broward County, Florida, Lambda has defeated related arguments from conservative extremists who oppose health benefit programs for non-married families. Headquartered in New York and with regional offices in Los Angeles, Chicago, and Atlanta, Lambda is the nation’s oldest and largest legal organization dedicated to lesbians, gay men, and people with HIV/AIDS.
Contact: Peg Byron at 212-809-8585 or 888-987-1984 (pager)
Jennifer C. Pizer at 323-937-272 ext. 223