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Federal court continues to bar Arizona from stripping family coverage for lesbian and gay state employees

SAN FRANCISCO -- The U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday denied the request of Arizona State officials for an en banc rehearing of an earlier ruling that maintains family health coverage for lesbian and gay State employees until a court issues a final decision in the case.

Lambda Legal represents nine lesbian and gay state employees -- including from the State Department of Game and Fish and state universities -- who are challenging a move by the Arizona Legislature to eliminate the equal health care coverage that they rely on to safeguard their families' health.

"The Ninth Circuit once again preserved vital family health coverage for Arizona's lesbian and gay state employees despite State officials'
increasingly desperate attempts to strip the coverage away," said Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Tara Borelli.

"Our clients are simply seeking equal pay for equal work," Borelli said. "We're confident that idea will continue to prevail as the case advances."

The equal health coverage plan had been put in place in 2008 under former Gov. Janet Napolitano, now Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Arizona lawmakers subsequently eliminated health coverage for domestic partners of state employees while retaining spousal benefits for heterosexual workers in a budget deal signed by Governor Jan Brewer in 2009.

U.S. District Court Judge John W. Sedwick in July 2010 granted Lambda Legal's request for a preliminary injunction to maintain domestic partner coverage for lesbian and gay Arizona State employees while the case proceeded in court. The judge also denied a motion to dismiss the case by Arizona State officials, ordering that the case proceed on the merits of the plaintiffs’ equal protection claim. Arizona State officials then appealed the injunction to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which maintained the injunction. The State then filed a motion seeking en banc rehearing before a full panel of the Ninth Circuit.

Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Tara Borelli argued the case, with Daniel C. Barr and Kirstin T. Eidenbach of the law firm of Perkins Coie LLP as co-counsel.

The case is Diaz (formerly Collins) v. Brewer.