City officials denied gay employee leave when daughters were born, but the proposed plus-1 policy will recognize same-sex spouses


NOT AGAIN | Interim Assistant City Manager Theresa O’Donnell, left, holds of a picture of her two children with her wife in the city’s ‘It Gets Better’ video last year. O’Donnell was denied family leave when both her daughters were born but a proposed ordinance would recognize same-sex spouses for leave.


ANNA WAUGH  |  News Editor

Dallas officials have taken the comprehensive equality resolution passed last month seriously with discussions about the civilian pension plans starting last week, and now the City Council will consider adopting a plus-one plan for family leave.

The resolution called for changes in the pension plans, as well as family leave and healthcare, among other areas, to make polices and procedures equitable for the city’s LGBT employees.

Under a proposed ordinance the council will consider next week, the Dallas City Code would change to allow city employees to take leave for a “designated care recipient.” The “designated care recipient” would be “one individual designated by the employee who is 18 years of age or older and has resided in the same household as the employee and intends to reside in the same household as the employee on a continuous basis,” according to the ordinance.

Currently employees can utilize the federal Family and Medical Leave Act only to care for a spouse, child, parent, related service member with a serious health condition or for a situation resulting from that service member’s active duty.

Theresa O’Donnell, interim assistant city manager, helped brief a committee on the resolution before its passage last month. An 11-year veteran of City Hall, O’Donnell has experienced the city’s unequal treatment because she’s lesbian.

In 2005 and again two years later, she was denied family leave when her daughters were born. In a letter from former Human Resources Director David Etheridge in 2007, O’Donnell was told that under FMLA “a domestic partner is not covered,” so the department couldn’t fill her request. The news was a surprise, especially after the support from co-workers surrounding the birth of her daughters.

“When our daughters were born, we were warmly embraced by our friends and colleagues at the city,” O’Donnell said. “They hosted baby showers, brought gifts, sent cards, cooked meals for us and shared their favorite parenting stories. In stark contrast to this heart-felt celebration was the dehumanizing rejection of my FMLA requests.”

O’Donnell said she hopes the new ordinance passes so LGBT employees in the future can take the family leave they are entitled to.

“The plus-one amendment will correct this institutionalized discrimination and ensure all city employees have the right and legal protection to spend necessary time with their families during times of celebration or in times of grief,” she said. “I applaud the city manager for moving so quickly to find this simple and family-friendly provision that will also make Dallas a more competitive employer.”

Adam Medrano, chair of the city’s LGBT Task Force, said he was pleased that proposed changes and discussions were happening so quickly after the equality resolution’s passage.

“It’s great to see all the work the Task Force put into the resolution is paying off,” Medrano said. “The resolution is working in the way it was designed to. This also shows that the city manager is taking this seriously and working to correct the inequalities here at City Hall that affect the LGBT employees.”

Employees would still be eligible for family leave as long as they’ve worked at least 12 months for a minimum of 1,250 hours during the 12-month period. But under the ordinance, anyone who violates the ordinance will be subject to a $500 fine, making the offense a class-C misdemeanor, much like offenses under the city’s nondiscrimination ordinance. The council will consider the ordinance Wednesday, April 23. If passed, it will take effect immediately.

This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition April 18, 2014.