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Lambda Legal Files Federal Lawsuit Seeking to Block Elimination of Domestic Partner Benefits for Gay and Lesbian State Employees

(TUCSON, AZ) -- Lambda Legal has filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Tucson to block a move to strip domestic partner benefits from gay and lesbian state employees. Arizona lawmakers included a provision stripping domestic partner health benefits from state employees as part of a last-minute budget deal signed by Governor Jan Brewer in September, while retaining spousal health benefits for heterosexual workers.

Lambda Legal represents ten state employees – including from the Arizona Highway Patrol, the State Department of Game and Fish, and state universities – who rely on health benefits from their employers to keep their families safe.

"This is an issue of equal pay for equal work," said Tara Borelli, staff attorney for Lambda Legal. "By stripping away these vital benefits from loyal state employees, the state isn’t just paying them less for the same work than their heterosexual colleagues -- it's pulling away a vital lifeline that all workers need. This is simply cruel and saves the state next to nothing."

State lawmakers voted over the summer to eliminate the state's domestic partner benefits, which were adopted with the leadership of former Governor Janet Napolitano, now Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Current Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed the budget bill with the provision revoking the health insurance coverage for domestic partners.

Arizona Highway Patrol Officer Tracy Collins is lead plaintiff and relies on her work-provided health benefits to protect her partner of 11 years, Diana Forrest, and their family. "I put my life on the line every day for the people of Arizona just by going to work," said Collins. "Though the stress of working a dangerous job takes a toll on my family, I'm proud to be a public servant. But losing Diana’s health coverage will put us in a desperate situation."

"This discriminatory elimination of vital health benefits denies equal pay for equal work to a small, politically vulnerable group of dedicated public workers who perform valuable services and pay equal taxes. By stripping gay and lesbian state employees of health coverage for a domestic partner, the new law unfairly and unconstitutionally inflicts severe hardship upon a targeted group of Arizona families," added Borelli.

Tara Borelli, Staff Attorney in Lambda Legal's Western Regional Office is handling the case. She is joined by Daniel C. Barr, Rhonda L. Barnes and James E. Barton, II of the lawfirm Perkins Coie Brown and Bain P.A.