Suit aims to protect domestic partner benefits for AZ state employees

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A gay rights group has filed suit seeking damages for state employees whose families will lose their health-care coverage following the elimination this year of domestic-partner benefits.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Phoenix claims the move amounts to a violation of constitutional protections that guarantee equal treatment of all individuals.

House Bill 2013, signed into law this year by Gov. Jan Brewer, eliminates health benefits for domestic partners effective next year.

The move will strip benefits from about 800 people, saving the state an estimated $3.3 million when it takes effect next October.

Lambda Legal, an advocacy group based in New York, filed a federal lawsuit in Phoenix on Tuesday on behalf of 10 state employees protesting the elimination of their benefits. The employees work for the Arizona Highway Patrol, the State Department of Game and Fish and state universities.

Brewer and officials at the Department of Administration are named as defendants in the suit. Tracy Collins, a Department of Public Safety officer, is the lead plaintiff.

Heterosexual couples can obtain benefits by getting married, a lawyer for the group argued, but gay couples cannot. Arizona voters last year passed Proposition 102, which amended the state Constitution to make gay marriage illegal.

“This is really a lawsuit about equal treatment in the workplace,” said attorney Tara Borelli of the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund.

“The change that was done here was done in an intentionally discriminatory way on its face because it defined benefits for those people who can marry,” she said.

“Gay and lesbian people clearly can’t marry under Arizona law,” Borelli continued. “So it was very clear what was done under this law. It was intentional and it was purposeful.”

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