NYC Sued Over Gay Partners Policy

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In court papers made public in state court in Nassau County, Lambda Legal named the New York State Department of Civil Service as a defendant in its case against Uniondale Union Free School District for refusing to extend spousal medical benefits to a retired gay couple who were legally married in Canada last year.

“The law in New York clearly provides that marriages that are validly performed in other jurisdictions, including Canada, must be respected in New York. Yet, the Department of Civil Service refuses to honor the law of this state and extend critical health care benefits to the lawfully wedded spouse of a 72 year-old retired school teacher,” said Alphonso David, Staff Attorney at Lambda Legal and lead attorney on the case.

The New York Department of Civil Service is the administrator of the New York State Health Insurance Program, the provider of Uniondale Union Free School District’s medical and health benefits through its Empire Plan, which exclusively covers New York State’s public employees.

“Because the Department of Civil Service’s Empire Plan covers public employees throughout the state, the outcome of this case affects all legally married spouses of lesbian and gay people who work for New York State in any of its municipalities and are entitled to the same benefits afforded to spouses of heterosexual state employees,” David said.

Lambda Legal represents Duke Funderburke, 72, who worked as a teacher at the Uniondale Union Free School District in Nassau County for over 20 years before retiring in 1986. He married his partner of 42 years, Brad Davis, 68, in October 2004 in a ceremony in Ontario, Canada. When Funderburke requested that his retirement health benefits be extended to his spouse, just as benefits are extended to other married retirees, the school district refused.

After receiving Mr. Funderburke’s complaint, the school district argued that it is their insurance administrator’s policy with the Department of Civil Service, not their decision alone, that prohibits them from recognizing Mr. Davis as Mr. Funderburke’s spouse. Accordingly, Lambda Legal filed an amended complaint naming the Department of Civil Service as a defendant.

This case now has the potential to oblige the New York State Department of Civil Service to provide benefits for married spouses of all gay and lesbian state employees and retirees covered by the Empire Plan, not just those of the Uniondale Union Free School District.

David is Lambda Legal’s lead attorney on the case, Funderburke v. The New York Department of Civil Service, Uniondale Union Free School District et al, with Lambda Legal’s Senior Counsel Susan Sommer. Jeffrey S. Trachtman and Norman C. Simon of the New York City law firm, Kramer Levin Naftalis Frankel LLP are co-counsel on the case.

The Netherlands, Belgium, Spain, and Canada have all legalized marriage for same-sex couples.

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