Victory! Alaska Supreme Court Allows Same-Sex Partners Access to Survivor Benefits

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July 25, 2014
Lambda Legal client Deborah Harris

The Alaska Supreme Court today ruled unanimously that the same-sex partner of a person killed on the job should have access to the protection of Alaska’s workers’ compensation law.

“This is a wonderful ruling for same-sex couples in Alaska who have built lives and raised families together but were at risk because they were barred access to a critical safety net created specifically to catch families at moments of crisis,” said Peter Renn, Lambda Legal Staff Attorney. “Like the avalanche of decisions we’re seeing from every corner of this country, the court recognized that loving, committed same-sex couples should have equal access to the law’s protection.”
Today’s ruling came in Harris v. Millennium Hotel, a lawsuit filed by Lambda Legal seeking survivor benefits for Deborah Harris, the same-sex partner of Kerry Fadely, who worked at Anchorage’s Millennium Hotel and was shot and killed in 2011 by a disgruntled former employee.
Alaska’s workers’ compensation law requires employers to provide survivor benefits, which are generally paid by insurance companies, to the surviving spouse of a person who dies from a work-related injury. The benefits minimize disruption to family members who relied upon the deceased worker’s income. Before today’s ruling, same-sex couples were categorically barred from accessing legal protections for survivors, because the State of Alaska does not allow same-sex couples to marry.

When she was killed, Fadely was employed as the food and beverage manager at the Millennium Hotel in Anchorage, Alaska. An employee who had been fired days earlier returned to the hotel with a pistol, asked for Fadely, and shot her multiple times.
“Today’s ruling is an important step in the right direction for same-sex couples in Alaska,” said Eric Croft, co-counsel in the lawsuit. “The State made an already tragic situation that much more devastating for Debbie. In an instant, her life crumbled around her. This ruling is the first step in allowing Debbie to begin to rebuild her life and in protecting all Alaskan same-sex couples and their families.””