PHOENIX, AZ - U.S. District Court Judge John W.
Sedwick today granted Lambda Legal's request for a preliminary injunction
blocking the elimination of domestic partner benefits for gay and lesbian
Arizona State employees. The judge also substantially denied a motion to
dismiss the case by State's Attorney Charles Grube, ordering that the case
proceed on the merits.
Lambda Legal represents ten 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
safeguard their families' health, as heterosexual workers do.
Sedwick's ruling rejects claims by the state that the elimination of
benefits will not harm the families of gay and lesbian employees because
they may still be able to obtain insurance privately, through Medicaid or
via the employers of the non-public employee partner. "Even assuming that
is true," Sedwick writes, citing a 9th Circuit Court ruling in Lambda
Legal's ongoing case In re Golinski, "the Ninth Circuit has recognized
there is 'an inherent inequality' in allowing some employees to participate
fully in the State's health plan, while expecting other employees to rely
on other sources, such as private insurance or Medicaid. 'This back of
the bus' treatment relegates plaintiffs to a second-class status by
imposing inferior workplace treatment on them, inflicting serious
constitutional and dignitary harms that after-the-fact damages cannot
"This injunction removes the sword that's been hanging over the heads of
hundreds of state workers and their families," said Tara Borelli, the
Lambda Legal staff attorney who argued the case on June 28th. "We're
pleased Judge Sedwick has recognized that this is a matter of equal pay for
equal work, and that eliminating benefits for Arizona's gay and lesbian
state employees would hurt real families."
Sedwick also rejected the State's claims that maintaining the same benefits
for gay employees that their heterosexual co-workers will continue to
receive would endanger other state services: "The State's argument, which
is not supported by any evidence, is speculative at best and discriminatory
at worst. Contrary to the State's suggestion, it is not equitable to lay
the burden of the State's budgetary shortfall on homosexual employees, any
more than on any other distinct class, such as employees with green eyes or
Arizona lawmakers included a provision eliminating domestic partner health
benefits for gay state employees as part of a last-minute budget deal
signed by Governor Jan Brewer last September, while retaining spousal
health benefits for heterosexual workers. Today's injunction barring
enforcement of the insurance cut-off will take effect in ten days. The
State can appeal the ruling immediately to the Ninth Circuit Court of
Appeals, or proceed to defend the discriminatory budget provision on the
merits in the District Court.
Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Tara Borelli argued the case, with Jennifer C.
Pizer of Lambda Legal, and Daniel C. Barr, Rhonda L. Barnes and Kirstin T.
Eidenbach of the law firm of Perkins, Coie, Brown & Bain P.A. as
co-counsel. The case is Collins v. Brewer.
Lambda Legal is a national organization committed to achieving full
recognition of the civil rights of lesbians, gay men, bisexuals,
transgender people and those with HIV through impact litigation, education
and public policy work.