Discrimination Suit Filed in Washington Over Same-Sex Benefits

April 19, 2007 (PLANSPONSOR.com) - Two gay firefighters and a gay emergency dispatcher in Bellevue, Washington filed a suit Tuesday against the city, claiming it was discriminatory to offer employee benefits such as health care, bereavement and family leave only to heterosexual couples.

The Seattle Times reported that the three filed the suit in King Country Superior Court about whether the city of Bellevue violated the privileges and immunities clause of the state constitution, which bans granting special privileges to one group that are not provided equally to everyone.

One of the plaintiffs Larry deGroen, who was employed with the fire department for 12 years, said his request for a bereavement day to attend the funeral of his partner’s dad in Detroit, was denied.

The lawsuit comes after failed attempts by gay-rights advocates in the city to get domestic-partner benefits for Bellevue employees, but city officials have so far resisted the benefits because they say the cost would be too heavy.

In fact, a city spokesman told the newspaper that the city has in recent years adopted “no new benefits” position to address rising health-insurance costs, and that adding same-sex benefits would tack on between 1% and 2% to an employer’s overall costs.

The state Supreme Court rejected claims based on the same equal protection clause last year to win the right to marry for gay couples; however, the court said that restricting marriage to one man and one woman was not a violation of the privileges and immunities clause. A suit by state employees in Wisconsin are also using the state’s equal protection clause to make a case to get equal benefits for same-sex couples (See WI Supreme Court to Consider Municipality Intervention in Domestic Partner Benefits Case ).