DOMA aftermath: Partner benefits to be restored for Ann Arbor schools employees through July
Courtney Sacco I AnnArbor.com
Teachers in the Ann Arbor Public Schools can maintain insurance benefits for their same-sex and domestic partners at least through the month of July, thanks to the U.S. Supreme Court rulings on the Defense of Marriage Act Wednesday.
Ann Arbor teachers were set to lose health care coverage for their domestic partners on June 30, due to the Ann Arbor Education Association contract being opened in March for teachers to agree to a 3 percent wage concession and for language changes to protect the union against Michigan's new Right to Work Law.
Employees had been anxiously awaiting a ruling from a Michigan federal court judge on a case filed by the American Civil Liberties Union to strike down a law Gov. Rick Snyder signed in December 2011. The law is called the Public Employee Domestic Partner Benefit Restriction Act and it prohibits any institution funded with state tax dollars from extending benefits to non-related adults living under the same roof as the insurance policyholder.
Proponents of the law say extending health care benefits to non-married, live-in partners costs the state too much money.
Two Ann Arbor Public Schools couples are plaintiffs in the lawsuit: Ann Arbor Open teacher Peter Ways and his partner Joe Breakey, as well as Slauson Middle School teacher Theresa Bassett and her partner Carol Kennedy.
The district has worked in cooperation with the ACLU on its lawsuit from the beginning, school officials have said, adding the district's philosophy is the Defense of Marriage Act and Snyder's ban on domestic partner benefits is not right.
AAPS Deputy Superintendent of Human Resources and Legal Services David Comsa said there still are a number of unknowns about what will happen with the ACLU's Bassett vs. Snyder case, the state's law banning domestic partner benefits and the constitutional amendment that passed in Michigan in 2004 outlawing same-sex marriage. He said all of these pieces remain up in the air in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling on DOMA.
However, Comsa presented a sliver of good news to the Ann Arbor school community Wednesday at the regular Board of Education meeting.
He said in the short term, domestic partner benefits will be restored for employees in AAPS through July 31. He said the district, the AAEA and the plaintiffs in the suit were able to work together Wednesday to get a Washtenaw County Circuit Court judge to issue a temporary restraining order on the removal of the benefits as the law applies to the Ann Arbor teachers union contract.
Comsa said the extra month will give courts time to more thoroughly research the U.S. Supreme Court rulings and briefs and make a determination on whether the Ann Arbor teachers' benefits can be permanently restored.
Comsa said district officials made phone calls to affected teachers as well as sent letters and emails informing them the benefits would be available for their domestic partners at least through July. The district also informed its insurance carriers that these benefits are to be reinstated for employees, Comsa said.
Vice President Christine Stead expressed her jubilation with the U.S. Supreme Court at Wednesday's meeting. She shared that it hits close to home for her, as her sister is positively affected by the rulings.
"I want to applaud the Supreme Court for making a really good decision today. I think this (DOMA) struck most of us as an unconstitutional law and I am really pleased," Stead said.
"This is very good news and should be celebrated. I think we as a district and as a board — our philosophy has been not to discriminate against any group of people for any reason. I look forward to when we can restore (domestic partner benefits) on a permanent basis as soon as legally allowed."
Danielle Arndt covers K-12 education for AnnArbor.com. Follow her on Twitter @DanielleArndt or email her at email@example.com.
Fri, Jun 28, 2013 : 2:06 p.m.
This is great news! Every state and federal judge in our country was given clear guidance in yesterday's DOMA decision (see pages 20-26 of the majority decision) to assess the true "design, purpose, and effect" of many of the discriminatory laws passed by voters and legislators in recent years. Justice Kennedy wrote a powerful decision that we are already seeing the effects of. Laws can never be passed that violate the protections of the U.S. Constitution. Judge Friedman in Detroit will soon rule on the cases from March he was waiting for guidance on. The December 2011 law Snyder signed will be struck down. The Michigan constitutional amendment defining marriage may even be struck down based on its true "intent" and the harm it has caused to many people demonstrated in court. I also would welcome the AAPS case to become the test case for equality and justice in the State of Michigan going forward.
Fri, Jun 28, 2013 : 6:21 p.m.
I would not welcome it, only because I don't want to take money from students to hire lawyers. The union may decide they would like to hire a lawyer, or maybe the ACLU.
Dr. I. Emsayin
Fri, Jun 28, 2013 : 1:54 p.m.
Did AAPS notify the domestic partner insurance holders regarding the loss of benefits before the teachers voted to take a 3% pay cut or were the teachers told that the domestic partner benefits would stay intact because there was not going to be a new contract?
Fri, Jun 28, 2013 : 2:15 p.m.
They were notified after the contract was re-opened and the board approved the 3% pay cut
Fri, Jun 28, 2013 : 1:25 p.m.
AnnArbor.com, how about posting the Washtenaw Circuit Judge's temporary restraining order? Was this in a new suit, or an existing suit?
Fri, Jun 28, 2013 : 12:58 p.m.
I have an idea. How about men and women now have Civil Unions instead?
Fri, Jun 28, 2013 : 2:21 p.m.
Because I have civil rights as well as religious beliefs, and the right to express myself. To lessen the value of what marriage is, makes it less important to me. If a same sex couple wants to call it marriage. fine. but I would rather be part of a civil union of men and women. the definition of marriage is/and has been: 1.The formal union of a man and a woman, typically recognized by law, by which they become husband and wife.
Fri, Jun 28, 2013 : 1:49 p.m.
I have an idea. Separate but equal has never worked in the past, why don't we just call it marriage and give them the same equality everyone else already has?
Fri, Jun 28, 2013 : 11:35 a.m.
I am confused I thought DOMA was federal law for only people who live in states that have legal same sex marriage.
Fri, Jun 28, 2013 : 12:45 p.m.
Thanks, Crono for your answer.
Fri, Jun 28, 2013 : 12:26 p.m.
There's more to the case then what was stated in the ruling. Since they said that DOMA violated the US Constitution's Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, it will set precedent for future cases that involve this Clause. This is one example. The state has a law on the books that violates the Equal Protection Clause and AAPS understands this and is responding accordingly.
Fri, Jun 28, 2013 : 11:24 a.m.
1. Did the district budget for extending benefits in defiance of state law? Or do we need to get a fresh bar napkin to scribble out a budget? 2. More importantly, has the district budgeted for legal expenses? That is an area that desperately needs a zero-based budget.
Fri, Jun 28, 2013 : 10:59 a.m.
Let us hope that someone does not use AAPS as a test case, either way. The budget is tight enough, having a million dollar plus legal bill to be a test case, would not be helpful to the students in the schools, supposedly the focus of the district.
Fri, Jun 28, 2013 : 10:48 a.m.
Teachers were set to lose domestic partner benefits because of the cruel and discriminatory law passed by the state legislature and signed by the governor. Stop blaming the union.