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Federal Judge in Gay and Lesbian State Employee Case Rules in Favor of Plaintiffs and Issues an Injunction
On Thursday, May 24, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted judgment in favor of gay and lesbian state workers who, together with their registered domestic partners, are excluded from equal access to California’s Long-Term Care Program.
Judge Claudia Wilken issued the ruling in Dragovich v. CalPERS, a class action lawsuit challenging federal and state laws including the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which regulate state-sponsored long-term care plans. These laws permit employees and an array of family members to join such plans, including opposite-sex spouses, but exclude the spouses and registered domestic partners of gay and lesbian workers. Judge Wilken found that the statutory preclusion of gay and lesbian spouses and partners violated the United States Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.
“I’ve been in a committed relationship with my partner for more than 30 years,” says plaintiff Michael Dragovich, a UCSF nurse specializing in liver transplants who joined the CalPERS plan as a state employee in 1997. “I am so pleased that our relationship will now be treated equally to the committed relationships of my heterosexual co-workers.”
“Lesbian and gay couples are entitled to fair and equal treatment from the federal government,” said Elizabeth Kristen of Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center. “Judge Wilken’s ruling ensures that both same-sex spouses and registered domestic partners will be treated fairly with respect to the CalPERS long term care insurance program.”
Long-term care insurance provides coverage when a person needs help with basic activities due to chronic illness, injury, age, or a severe cognitive impairment like Alzheimer’s. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that seventy percent of people over the age of 65 will need long-term care services. Without insurance, the high cost of long-term care can force families to make painful choices such as selling a home to pay bills, or having a healthier spouse or child give up working to become a caretaker.
In finding that the exclusion violated the equal protection protections of the Constitution, the court noted a number of official actions taken by the federal government in opposition to the recognition of gay and lesbian couples in establishing discriminatory intent including the defunding of the District of Columbia’s domestic partnership registry and the enactment of the DOMA. The opinion quotes from Congressional leaders who described domestic partnerships for gay and lesbian couples as “an attack on the family” and “abhorrent.”
Along with Claudia Center, Elizabeth Kristen and William C. McNeill, III, from Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center, counsel for the plaintiffs include Dan Mason and Patrick Clayton of Zelle Hofmann Voelbel & Mason LLP.