Oral arguments held in partner-bens dispute
by Timothy Cwiek
Mar 06, 2014 | 845 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Oral arguments were held last month in the case of a Pittsburgh man who’s seeking to extend his workplace benefits to his same-sex partner.

Bradley A. Ankney, 48 , is a math teacher at the Allegheny Intermediate Unit in Homestead.

For the past two years, he’s been trying to enroll his domestic partner in AIU’s health-benefits plan, but AIU has refused to do so.

In August, Ankney filed suit, claiming AIU is violating Allegheny County’s antibias law, which forbids discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

He’s seeking access to all AIU benefits offered to his heterosexual coworkers, along with compensatory damages and attorney’s fees.

But AIU insists it’s not violating the law, because it allocates benefits on the basis of marital status, which is legal.

AIU has requested that Ankney’s case be dismissed as meritless.

On Feb. 14, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Robert J. Colville presided over oral arguments in the dispute.

Colville must decide whether to let the case move go to a jury trial.

After the hearing, Sara J. Rose, an attorney for Ankney, expressed optimism about the case.

“We’re optimistic that we’ll be able to move forward with this case,” she told PGN.

Colville indicated that he’ll review a transcript of the proceedings prior to rendering a decision, she added.

In court papers, Ankney’s attorneys emphasize the discriminatory effect of AIU’s benefits policy, because it’s conditioned on a law that excludes gays and lesbians.

Their brief notes that Allegheny County’s antibias ordinance bars such discriminatory effects on protected groups, including LGBTs.

But AIU argues that the local antibias law doesn’t bar discriminatory effects and that, even if it did, AIU’s policy doesn’t have such an effect.

AIU notes that it treats all unmarried couples equally, whether they’re in same-sex or opposite-sex relationships. Thus, there’s no discriminatory effect, it contends.

But Ankney’s attorneys say AIU is making the wrong comparison.

“The appropriate comparison when determining whether classifications based on marriage discriminate based on sexual orientation is between gay men and lesbians and all heterosexuals, not just unmarried ones,” Ankney’s brief states.

AIU also argues that the state’s anti-LGBT marriage law supports its position that Ankney’s case should be tossed out.

“It is the strong and longstanding public policy of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that marriage shall be between one man and one woman,” states AIU’s brief. “Simply put, this is neither the case nor the forum to challenge Pennsylvania’s marriage statue [sic] as such is for the legislature and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to resolve.”

But Ankney’s attorneys counter that the state’s marriage law doesn’t justify AIU’s allegedly discriminatory benefits policy.

“[T]he fact that a statute prevents same-sex couples from marrying does not automatically allow employers to treat them differently in other ways,” Ankney’s brief states, adding it would be just as wrong if AIU conditioned benefits on proof of draft registration.

“Such a policy would have the effect of denying benefits to all female employees, who are ineligible to register for the draft, in violation of employment-discrimination laws,” the attorneys stated.

Ankney also maintains AIU is violating the equal-rights amendment of Pennsylvania’s constitution, because if he were a woman, his partner would receive the benefits.

But AIU claims there’s no violation of the equal-rights amendment, because male and female same-sex couples are treated alike.

Ankney’s attorneys counter: “The fact that AIU’s sex-based benefits policy harms men and women alike does not render it constitutional.”

Colville is expected to issue a decision within the next few months.

Anthony G. Sanchez, an attorney for AIU, had no comment.

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