STATE COLLEGE, PA - State College civil rights attorneys Andrew Shubin and Justine Andronici along with the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and the American Civil Liberties Union's Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Rights Project filed a federal lawsuit today on behalf of State College Area School District ("SCASD") employee Kerry Wiessmann and her domestic partner challenging the district's policy of denying health insurance benefits to gay and lesbian domestic partners while providing those same benefits to heterosexual employees. Because of the policy, Wiessmann cannot include Beth Resko, her partner of 25 years, on her family's health insurance plan.
"This is an important case for many reasons. It's about basic fairness, tolerance, and equal treatment for hardworking families. It's about our community and the kind of place it should be - a place where the Constitution and the law protect everyone," said Shubin.
According to the lawsuit, SCASD's written policy explicitly discriminates in the benefits it offers to its employees. The SCASD benefits policy states "Domestic partners cannot be the same gender."
Wiessmann and Resko meet all of SCASD's domestic partner qualifications - except for their sexual orientation. Wiessmann and Resko have two children together, intertwined family finances, own their home together, and are beneficiaries on each other's life insurance policies.
Wiessmann made multiple requests to add her partner to the family policy. The district denied each request, stating that its policy specifically prohibited providing insurance to same-sex partners of employees. Wiessmann already maintains - and pays for - a family policy because it covers their two children.
Until 2007, Resko worked as an independent contractor, and the couple was forced to purchase individual health insurance for her at a cost of more than $5000 per year. She eventually took a different position that included health insurance for reduced pay.
"This policy has no purpose other than to treat same-sex couples like second-class citizens," said Mary Catherine Roper, senior staff attorney at the ACLU-PA.
The lawsuit assert that SCASD's policy violates the couple's constitutional rights, including their right to equal protection of the laws without regard to sexual orientation or sex and their right to intimate association, as well as Pennsylvania's Equal Rights Amendment.
The case is Wiessmann v. State College Area School District. In addition to Shubin, Andronici, and Roper, Wiessmann and Resko are represented by Witold Walczak of the ACLU-PA, Leslie Cooper of the ACLU's LGBT Rights Project, and Seth Kreimer of the University of Pennsylvania Law School.