STATE COLLEGE, PA – A vote by a majority of the State College Area School District (“SCASD”) school board to provide health insurance benefits to the gay and lesbian domestic partners of its employees will partially settle a discrimination lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania and local civil rights attorneys in late May. The settlement also requires the district to add "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to its anti-discrimination policies for staff and students. The board’s action, which is reflected in an agreed-upon court order filed with the federal court, must still be approved by a judge and leaves unresolved the issue of damages.
"We are happy that gay and lesbian employees and students will now be recognized as equal members of the State College Area School District community," said State College civil rights attorney Andrew Shubin, one of the attorneys representing Wiessmann.
In May, 2011 Shubin and Justine Andronici, along with the ACLU of Pennsylvania and the American Civil Liberties Union’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Rights Project, filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of 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 could not include Beth Resko, her partner of 25 years, on her family’s health insurance plan.
"Kerry Wiessmann should not be given second class benefits simply because her committed relationship is with a person of the same sex," said Steve Harvey of the law firm Pepper Hamilton, LLP, who is also an ACLU-PA cooperating attorney on the case. "We welcome the district’s decision to bring fairness to the employee compensation scale," continued Harvey.
SCASD’s previous policy, which provided benefits to spouses and domestic partners of employees, explicitly stated "Domestic partners cannot be the same gender." Under the terms of the agreement, called a "consent decree," the District will, beginning on July 1, 2011, offer health benefits to all domestic partners of SCASD employees, regardless of sexual orientation. It will continue to provide these benefits to same-sex domestic partners on the same terms as SCASD makes these benefits available to the spouses of married employees.
Additionally, as part of the agreement SCASD will amend its anti-discrimination policies for staff and students by August 1, 2011 to include "sexual orientation" and "gender identity."
Under the agreement, the parties will try to settle the outstanding damages claims in the lawsuit over the next 75 days, and if no settlement can be reached the lawsuit will resume.
"The State College Area School Board deserves some credit for correcting quickly the discriminatory policy, thereby halting the harm to our clients and other employees with same-sex domestic partners," said ACLU-PA Legal Director Witold Walczak. Walczak noted that today’s agreement eliminates the need for the ACLU to file and litigate a preliminary injunction motion.
The case is Wiessmann v. State College Area School District, No. 11-cv-00940-JEJ (M.D.Pa.). In addition to Shubin, Andronici, and Harvey, Wiessmann and Resko are represented by Walczak and Mary Catherine Roper of the ACLU-PA, Leslie Cooper of the ACLU’s LGBT Rights Project, Harvey, Eric Rothschild, Frank Griffin and Hedya Aryani of the law firm of Pepper Hamilton, LLP, and Seth Kreimer of the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
- More information about the case, including a copy of the agreement with the school district and the original complaint