Lambda Legal files lawsuit against city of Houston over spousal benefits

Upton.Ken

Ken Upton

Lambda Legal filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against Houston Mayor Annise Parker and the city of Houston to ensure spouses of legally married same-sex couples will receive health benefits.

The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas on behalf of three city employees after a challenge to the coverage forced them to withdraw and cancel the coverage.

Parker announced last month that the benefits would be extended in light of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the federal Defense of Marriage Act. But last week, state District Judge Lisa Millard signed a temporary restraining order prohibiting the city of Houston from offering benefits to same-sex couples after the Harris County GOP chairman filed a lawsuit.

“City employees who are married to same-sex spouses are doing the same work as coworkers who are married to different-sex spouses—at the end of the day this case is about equal pay for equal work,” Ken Upton, senior staff attorney at Lambda Legal’s South Central office in Dallas, said in a statement. “These employees, some who have worked for the City for many years, acted in good faith when notified the City was extending health coverage benefits to their legal spouses.”

Noel Freeman, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit and a president of Houston GLBT Political Caucus, is an administrative coordinator with the City of Houston Public Works & Engineering Office who has worked for the city for nine years. He and his husband, Brad, have been together for more than 11 years and were married in Washington, D.C., in 2010.

“The notice from the City was like a punch in the stomach. Brad and I were so excited when we learned we could enroll him on my plan that we signed him up within an hour of finding out,” Freeman said. “And now, just a month later, they tell us they’re going to have to take it away, that once again I will be paid less than my married heterosexual colleagues for the same work. How is this fair?”

The other plaintiffs in the suit are Yadira Estrada, a Houston police officer who married her partner of seven and a half years, Jennifer Flores, in Maine in June, and Ron Reeser, a systems administrator who married his husband, Vince Olivier, in Canada in 2008 after they had been together for three years.

Upton said the city’s refusal to implement the health benefits change and offer the benefits to same-sex spouses after they signed up for coverage is unfair.

“By refusing to recognize the legal marriage of same-sex couples for the purpose of providing employment benefits, the City deprives some Houston families of a critical safety net and financial security,” Upton said. “By stripping legally married gay and lesbian city employees of spousal benefits, including health insurance coverage, the City not only inflicts severe hardship, but sends a signal that their families are less worthy than those of their coworkers. This the Constitution does not allow.”

—  Dallasvoice

Defense Secretary Hagel to Texas Guard: Process same-sex benefits

Chuck Hagel

Chuck Hagel

It’s been two months since Alicia Butler was denied federal benefits at Camp Mabry in Austin because the Texas National Guard refused to issue them to same-sex partners.

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced late Thursday that he would direct national guards in every state to process benefits applications of same-sex spouses, reiterating his directive from August that spousal benefits for gay troops should be available across the country after the U.S. Supreme Court June decision against the Defense of Marriage Act.

“But several states today are refusing to issue these ID cards to same-sex spouses at National Guard facilities,” Hagel said during a speech before the Anti-Defamation League’s centennial meeting in New York City. “Not only does this violate the states’ obligations under federal law, their actions have created hardship and inequality by forcing couples to travel long distances to federal military bases to obtain the ID cards they’re entitled to.”

—  Dallasvoice

UTSA decides to give military wife in-state tuition without changing policy

UTSA

Officials at the University of Texas at San Antonio have decided to offer the wife of an Air Force captain in-state tuition after previously denying her the rate.

Officials wouldn’t discuss the reasoning behind their original decision last week, only saying they were looking into it. While the state doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage, the federal government does, and Lambda Legal said public universities that receive federal funding were required to offer military members and their families in-state tuition.

UTSA spokesman Joe Izbrand emailed Dallas Voice late last week to explain the spouse would be given in-state tuition.

“After carefully reviewing this matter, it has been determined that the student will be charged resident tuition,” he wrote in an email. “Our university is enriched through inclusiveness and diversity. We honor the service of our military personnel and recognize the sacrifices made by their families.

“Because of the complexities involved and the potential conflict between the federal statute and state law, the university will seek additional legal guidance on this issue.”

The spouse told Dallas Voice that while the policy hasn’t changed, she was informed on Friday that she would be given a $1,000 scholarship. Since students who are offered scholarships of at least $1,000 are given in-state tuition, she will now receive in-state tuition.

She said while she’s glad the issue was resolved, she hopes the policy is changed to be inclusive, so other same-sex military spouses can receive in-state tuition and she won’t worry about not receiving the rate next year if she doesn’t receive a scholarship.

“I’m bothered about it personally,” she said of the situation. “I’m bothered because it hasn’t changed the problem in the future or for next year.”

—  Dallasvoice

Additional states turn away National Guard spouses, one reverses itself

MilitaryPartnerMore states are following Texas’ lead and refusing to process ID cards for same-sex spouses of National Guard troops, American Military Partner Association reports, but one state reversed course.

Indiana and South Carolina joined Texas this week in sending same-sex spouses of National Guard troops to federal facilities to register. Both states accept applications from opposite-sex spouses.

But after further legal review, Indiana reversed itself and again began taking applications at National Guard bases.

“We applaud the Indiana National Guard for doing the right thing,” said Stephen Peters, president of AMPA. “We urge other state national guards who are refusing to comply with the Defense Department directive to process all spouses for federal benefits to immediately follow suit.

Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Rep. Adam Smith, D-Wash., ranking member of the House Armed Service Committee, wrote to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel asking him to intervene.

Louisiana, Oklahoma and Mississippi also began signing up all spouses but then stopped after Texas turned away applicants. In Texas, Alicia Butler was turned away from Camp Mabry on the first day same-sex spouses could sign up for IDs and is now being represented by Lambda Legal’s Dallas office.

—  David Taffet

BREAKING: Galveston man withdraws lawsuit challenging TX marriage ban

gay-marriage

Domenico Nuckols has decided to withdraw his lawsuit challenging Texas’ constitutional marriage amendment after talking with legal experts about his case.

Nuckols, a retired nuclear engineer, filed the case two weeks ago and as of last week was trying to find pro bono legal representation. But he said after talking with the American Civil Liberties Union and receiving a letter on Lambda Legal’s position, he withdrew the suit Monday. The judge signed the order dismissing the case yesterday.

He said the organizations explained they had picked several states like Pennsylvania and Virginia where they thought they could win the fight for same-sex marriage. Nuckols also hasn’t tried to marry in Texas and doesn’t plan to do so, so standing could have been an issue with his case.

“It’s not the time to do it in Texas,” he said. “I don’t care if you have standing or not, it’s going to be very politicized.

“I’m disappointed but when you have so many people telling you you’re beating a dead horse, you should listen,” he added. “There’s a fight out there, but you can’t pick it in Texas.”

—  Dallasvoice

Lambda Legal holds victory celebration tonight at Hotel Palomar

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Every year about this time, Lambda Legal’s Dallas office holds a summer kickoff party. But there’s rarely been a season worth partying it up more than this one. With the recent triumphs in the U.S. Supreme Court, the gay rights group has a lot to celebrate — no wonder the theme is “Victory!”

You can be part of the festivities at Hotel Palomar’s Central 214, where cocktails and bites will be served while you learn about the details of the upcoming Landmark Dinner. It’s all taking place starting at 5:30 p.m.; you can get more information on their Facebook page.

—  Arnold Wayne Jones

Napolitano directs INS to process green card applications for gay couples

Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano

Homeland Security Chief Janet Napolitano

Binational couples may officially begin applying for green cards for the non-citizen spouse.

“After last week’s decision by the Supreme Court holding that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional, President Obama directed federal departments to ensure the decision and its implication for federal benefits for same-sex legally married couples are implemented swiftly and smoothly,” Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said in a statement Monday.

“To that end, effective immediately, I have directed U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to review immigration visa petitions filed on behalf of a same-sex spouse in the same manner as those filed on behalf of an opposite-sex spouse,” she said.

—  David Taffet

PHOTOS: About 500 attend Day of Decision rally on Cedar Springs

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By the time Dallas’ Day of Decision rally began at 7 p.m. at the Legacy of Love Monument, more than 300 people had gathered. As the crowd grew to close to 500, police closed a lane of Oak Lawn Avenue and two lanes of Cedar Springs Road.

GetEQUAL TX organizer Daniel Cates began the rally with chants of, “Right here, right now, I deserve full equality!”

Before the scheduled speakers, people from the crowd spoke in an open-megaphone session. One who claimed to be an “ex-lesbian” was countered with a chant of “No more hate” until the mic was taken from her and she left the steps of the monument.

Some of the speakers discussed the implications of the Supreme Court’s marriage equality decisions. Lambda Legal’s Ken Upton called the DOMA ruling a broad decision. He said it would take awhile to sort out the full implications.

“The ruling benefits the whole LGBT spectrum,” trans activist Oliver Blumer said. “It breaks down barriers.”

—  David Taffet

Lambda Legal presents The Landmark Dinner

The Landmark Dinner celebrates the Lawrence v. Texas decision that declared sodomy laws unconstitutional in 2003 and has been the basis for many legal gains made by the LGBT community in the last decade.

The Dallas office of Lambda Legal opened in August 2002, and the Lawrence decision was handed down in June 2003. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the opening of the South Central office in Dallas, the Landmark Dinner takes place on Aug. 10 at the Hotel Palomar followed by the White Party Gala.

Chad West, chair of the Leadership Committee, said that the dinner is the largest annual fundraiser for the regional Lambda Legal office.

“This year’s Landmark Dinner is particularly important because it will celebrate the 10-year anniversary of our regional office,” West said. “The event will feature great speakers Jenny and Jessica Buntemeyer, a married Iowa couple who sought an accurate death certificate for their stillborn child, Brayden. Despite the fact that they were married, the Iowa Department of Public Health erased Jenny’s name on the death certificate.”

Former American Airlines corporate secretary Charles MarLett and the law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher will be recipients of the 2012 Partners for Equality Award. The award recognizes an individual, law firm and corporation in the Dallas area for their commitment and dedication to Lambda Legal’s mission to achieve equality for lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, transgender people living with HIV.

Charles MarLett will be the recipient of the individual Partners for Equality award. MarLett served on Lambda Legal’s National Board of Directors from 2002 to 2008 and was a member of the Executive Committee for five years, including a two-year term as board co-chair. He also served as the interim regional director of the South Central Regional Office.

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher will be the recipient of the law firm Partners for Equality award. The firm has been a long time National Supporter of Lambda Legal. They are currently providing pro-bono co-counsel services in Gill v. Devlin and Howell, Lambda Legal’s lawsuit claiming Tarrant County College officials violated the U.S. Constitution by preventing a qualified candidate from interviewing for full-time teaching positions because of their belief that she is a lesbian.

The corporate recipient will be Carol Meyer and her local Merrill Lynch group, the Meyer Group, who will be recognized as doing outstanding work in the LGBT community through investing.

Saturday, Aug. 11. Dinner from 6 to 10 p.m. White Party Gala immediately following until 2 a.m. Tickets are available online and are $200 for the dinner and White Party. Purchase tickets for the White Party only for $30 until Thursday. After that, tickets for the White Party are $40.

—  David Taffet

TCC settles lesbian former professor’s discrimination suit for $160K

Jacqueline “Jackie” Gill

Jacqueline “Jackie” Gill

Tarrant County College administrators agreed to pay a former lesbian professor more than $160,000 as part of a settlement in a federal discrimination lawsuit.

Jacqueline “Jackie” Gill filed a complaint in September 2011 stating she was unable to interview for a permanent position in the English department at the Northeast Campus of Tarrant County College in Hurst after her yearlong temporary position had expired.

Gill sought compensation for the time she was unemployed, as well as the opportunity to complete the application process at TCC, her attorney Ken Upton, senior staff attorney for Lambda Legal’s Dallas office, previously told Instant Tea.

Although the settlement doesn’t accept liability, Lambda Legal announced that TCC agreed to pay Gill more than $160,000 and to provide her with a positive letter of recommendation.

TCC, which adopted a nondiscrimination policy that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation last March, added a written policy prohibiting employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. The new policy was not part of the settlement, according to the statement.

“Jackie’s fight resulted in a published decision by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas that makes it clear that public employers can no longer claim ignorance about whether discriminating against employees based on their sexual orientation violates the U.S. Constitution,” Upton said in a statement.

—  Dallasvoice