Wisconsin Court Upholds Partner Benefits Plan by Madison School District

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Ruling continues nationwide trend toward equal benefits for unmarried couples
February 8, 2001

(CHICAGO, February 8, 2001) — In yet another blow to scattered efforts across the country to overturn domestic partner benefits plans, a Wisconsin appeals court unanimously upheld a Madison Metropolitan School District policy that provides benefits to “designated family partners” of district employees, Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund said Thursday.

Rejecting every argument against the benefits plan, a three-judge panel of the Wisconsin Court of Appeals for the Fourth District held that the school district has “the power to provide health insurance benefits to designated family partners, and there is no statutory prohibition against providing these benefits to these persons.”

Lambda submitted an amicus brief, co-authored by Senior Counsel Patricia M. Logue and Staff Attorney Marvin C. Peguese, on behalf of the school district arguing that public sector employers have the power to and should offer partner benefits to their employees based on principled reasons and practical incentives.

“The school district’s policy ensures that all families, including lesbian and gay households, get the basic protections they deserve, and that all employees are treated fairly. Moreover, this policy enables the district to recruit and retain the most qualified and talented employees,” Logue said.

The court ruled in Pritchard v. Madison Metropolitan School District that the domestic partner plan complied with state statutes defining the district’s policy-making authority and regulating health insurance benefits for public employees.

The court also dismissed an additional argument that the benefits plan conflicted with Wisconsin’s purported public policy of “favoring marriage.” In her 11-page ruling, Judge Angela B. Bartell wrote that it was not the judiciary’s job to weigh the social and political implications of how the school district exercises the powers granted to it by the state legislature.

Added Peguese, “This school district, like thousands of companies, state governments, and municipalities across the country, already offer domestic partner benefits. They recognize the value of treating all families, including gay couples, equally.”

In Atlanta, Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, and Broward County, Florida, Lambda has helped defeat similar challenges brought by far-right conservatives who oppose health benefit programs for non-married families. Today over 3,400 public and private employers like the “Big Three” automakers, IBM, United Airlines, and J.P. Morgan offer domestic partner benefits.

Lambda is the nation’s oldest and largest legal organization serving lesbians, gay men, and people with HIV and AIDS. Headquartered in New York, Lambda has regional offices in Chicago, Los Angeles, and Atlanta.

(Pritchard v. Madison Metropolitan School District, No. 00-0848)

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CONTACT: Patricia M. Logue 312-663-4413 ext. 30
Marvin C. Peguese 212-809-8585 ext. 213
Peg Byron 212-809-8585 or 888-987-1984 (pager)


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