"…as far as the airline is concerned, we're nothing more than friends."
(PALM SPRINGS, CA) Lambda Legal sent a letter yesterday to SkyWest and Delta Airlines warning the companies that their treatment of gay employees' spouses and registered domestic partners violates not only the airlines' own policies, but also California law.
SkyWest employee Gilbert Caldwell, 56, works at Palm Springs International Airport and married his partner of 34 years last year. SkyWest maintains a discriminatory travel benefits policy for gay and lesbian employees on SkyWest-operated Delta Connection flights that forces Caldwell to pay a fare for his spouse, 72-year-old Rev. David Farrell, under a "companion" program designed for friends. Spouses of heterosexual employees do not pay the fare.
"SkyWest's denial of equal travel benefits amounts to a reduction in gay and lesbian employees' pay," Lambda Legal has warned the employer. "SkyWest insists that its gay and lesbian employees with a state-registered domestic partner or spouse should not receive the same rate of compensation for their job performance, though Mr. Caldwell is not excused from any of his work hours or job responsibilities."
"I'm not asking for anything SkyWest doesn't already give my straight married coworkers," said Caldwell. "David and I have been together for 34 years and we're legally married. But as far as the airline is concerned, we're nothing more than friends. It's painful and wrong that they're treating our marriage as worth less than those of their heterosexual employees."
"This is a blatant violation of California law requiring that married same-sex couples be treated with the same respect and protections as married heterosexuals. Travel benefits are an important part of airline employees' compensation, and denying spousal travel benefits to married lesbian and gay employees is a denial of equal pay for equal work," said Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Tara Borelli, who wrote the letter. "SkyWest is telling Mr. Caldwell that his spouse doesn't count and that his work is not as valuable as that of other employees. This letter is our final attempt to correct SkyWest and Delta's clearly unlawful travel benefits policy before Mr. Caldwell proceeds to court."
After the California Supreme Court ruled in May 2009 that same-sex couples who married in California last year remain married despite Proposition 8, Lambda Legal launched its "Marriage Watch: California" project to ensure that married gay people are treated fairly under California law. More information is available at http://www.lambdalegal.org/take-action/marriage-watch.