Wisconsin Supreme Court Says Municipalities Can't Intervene to Fight ACLU Lawsuit Seeking Domestic Partner Health Insurance

February 7, 2008 12:00 am

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Harms Faced by Lesbian State Employees Will Finally Be Addressed by Trial Court

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MADISON, WI – The Wisconsin Supreme Court decided today that a number of municipalities had no right to interfere in a lawsuit brought by lesbian Wisconsin state employees seeking domestic partner health insurance for their partners from their state employers The six lesbian couples, who have had to go without adequate health insurance for their families while this issue has been litigated, will now have their chance to prove that it is unconstitutional for the state to bar them from receiving the same compensation as their straight colleagues.

“We are relieved that our clients will finally have their opportunity to prove to the courts the unfairness of denying lesbian and gay state employees access to much needed health insurance for their families,” said Chris Ahmuty, Executive Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “They work just as hard as their straight colleagues and shouldn’t be denied the same pay package.”

In a 4 to 3 decision, the Wisconsin Supreme Court rejected the arguments of the municipalities seeking to enter the lawsuit that they may be affected by the ultimate outcome in the case. The court said: “The municipalities have shown no special, personal, or unique interest in the present case. Were the municipalities granted a right to intervene upon such grounds, virtually any declaratory action for constitutional review of a statute would present a case in which at least some persons or entities may intervene as of right. . .”

“We are relieved that the court recognized the judicial system would grind to a halt if everyone who was concerned about an issue had a right to get involved as a party,” said Larry Dupuis, the Legal Director of the ACLU of Wisconsin and one of the lawyers for the couples. “The municipalities don’t have a direct stake in this case about state benefits, since our clients have never sought any kind of relief from them. As has long been clear, the municipalities can explain their views of the legal issues by filing a brief with the court.”

The ACLU filed the lawsuit in April 2005 on behalf of six lesbian state employees and their partners. The lawsuit charges that it is a violation of the state’s equal protection guarantees to deny lesbian and gay state employees access to the same health insurance and family leave protections that it provides to straight employees who are able to cover their spouses.

Additional information about the case, including information about the costs of providing domestic partner health insurance, biographical information about the clients who are being denied adequate health insurance, as well as a copy of today’s decision, are available by clicking Helgeland v. Wisconsin at www.aclu.org/caseprofiles.

The case is Helgeland v. Department of Employee Trust Funds. The couples are represented by Larry Dupuis of the ACLU of Wisconsin, John Knight and Rose Saxe of the ACLU’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender Project, and cooperating attorneys Linda Roberson and Christopher Krimmer of the Madison law firm Balisle & Roberson.

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