Fighting Unequal Pay in Arizona

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Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Tucson today to block a move to strip gay and lesbian state employees of domestic partner benefits.

"This is an issue of equal pay for equal work," said Tara Borelli, staff attorney for Lambda Legal. "By stripping away these vital benefits from loyal state employees, the state isn't just paying them less for the same work than their heterosexual colleagues — it's pulling away a vital lifeline that all workers need. This is simply cruel and saves the state next to nothing."

Lambda Legal represents 10 state employees — including from the Arizona Highway Patrol, the State Department of Game and Fish and state universities — who rely on health benefits from their employers to keep their families safe.

Lead plaintiff Tracy Collins (left), a senior highway patrol officer, with her partner of ten years, Diana, whose current job does not offer health benefits.

Arizona's domestic partner benefits for gay and lesbian public employees were adopted in the fall of 2008 under the leadership of former Governor Janet Napolitano, who left in January 2009 to become Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. This summer Arizona legislators approved a budget bill with a provision revoking the benefits while retaining the comparable health benefits for heterosexual public workers. Current Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed it.

Plaintiff Keith Humphrey (left) with his partner of eight years, Brett Klay, who was diagnosed over the summer with a torn carotid artery. Losing the health insurance that allows Klay to access medical appointments, monitoring scans and medication to prevent a potentially fatal blood clot is a terrifying prospect for the couple.

Arizona Highway Patrol Officer Tracy Collins is the suit's lead plaintiff. Collins relies on the benefits to protect her partner of almost 11 years, Diana Forrest, and their family. "I put my life on the line every day for the people of Arizona just by going to work," said Collins. "Though the stress of working a dangerous job takes a toll on my family, I'm proud to serve and protect our community. But losing Diana's health coverage will put us in a desperate situation."

Plaintiff Deanna Pfleger (right), her partner Mia Labarbara and their children.

The case is Collins v. Brewer.

November 17, 2009