Lambda Helps Win Historic Domestic Partner Benefits Victory

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San Francisco leads the way to equality for workers employed by city, county, and state contractors
April 13, 1998

(LOS ANGELES, April 13, 1998) -- Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund applauded the United States federal district court ruling issued Friday upholding the City of San Francisco's policy to contract only with businesses that provide employee benefits to unmarried as well as married workers.

"The court's decision is a great victory for all city and other government agents fighting to establish fair business practices," said Jennifer Pizer, Lambda's western regional office managing attorney and co-author of its friend-of-the-court brief. "With this ruling to back them, we now call upon cities, counties, and states all across the country to follow San Francisco's lead and enact similar measures."

San Francisco enacted the Equal Benefits Ordinance in June of last year. The Air Transport Association of America and Airline Industrial Relations Conference then filed suit claiming that the City's ordinance violated various laws.

In a 96-page opinion, federal Judge Claudia Wilken held, among other things, that requiring equal treatment of employees who work on city contracts is well within a city government's priorities and powers. In particular, she held that the ordinance is permissable under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act and under the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution. Cities around the country have been looking to this case for the court's affirmation that requiring equal benefits of all employers with whom they contract does not violate these two federal laws.

"This finding is the go-ahead other cities have been waiting for," said Kevin Cathcart, Lambda's executive director. "Domestic partner packages are increasingly popular with public and private employers. The vision of workplace equality behind San Francisco's new and landmark step is not only in keeping with the growing trend, it is clearly sound legal practice."

Judge Wilken held that, as a free market participant, San Francisco has the right to insist that employers who contract with the City provide benefits to all employees who work in California and those located anywhere in the country and working directly on contracts for San Francisco.

Because the airline industry is not a typical free market, however, Judge Wilken did exempt the airlines to a significant degree from the ordinance.

San Francisco's historic policy has spurred companies like the San Francisco 49ers, Pacific Bell, and Chevron Oil Corporation to join the growing numbers of employers around the country that offer domestic partner benefits.

More than 500 public and private employers, including more than 25% of Fortune 500 companies, now offer their unmarried and their married workers similar benefits packages. San Francisco was among the first cities to provide such benefits to its own workers, and the Equal Benefits Ordinance again makes the City a model for the country in its commitment to equitable employment practices.

Lambda's friend-of-the-court brief in the case detailed the numerous advantages and nominal costs of domestic partner benefits, and pointed out that San Francisco's decision to stop subsidizing discrimination with its public dollars is in keeping with the City's longstanding commitment to equality. The brief was prepared and submitted together with the American Civil Liberties Union Foundation of Northern California, the ACLU Lesbian and Gay Rights Project, and the National Center for Lesbian Rights.

(Air Transport Association of America v. City and County of San Francisco, # 97-1763 CW)


CONTACT: Kathy Strieder, 212-809-8585, pager 888-987-1984; Jennifer Pizer, 213-937-2728


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