Man wins challenge of same-sex benefits
A Washington man who quit his job to care for his dying, same-sex domestic partner is entitled to unemployment benefits, a Thurston County...
A Washington man who quit his job to care for his dying, same-sex domestic partner is entitled to unemployment benefits, a Thurston County judge has ruled.
State law lets a worker leave a job for "good cause" and receive benefits for 11 reasons. Those include a death, an illness or a disability affecting the person's immediate family, according to the Northwest Women's Law Center's Unemployment Law Project.
In his ruling, Superior Court Judge Richard Hicks found that in the case of Dean Lake, the definition of immediate family included Lake's domestic partner of 12 years, Tony Sisneros. Lake had quit his job to care for Sisneros, who had terminal brain cancer and died in September 2007, according to the law center.
"The Employment Security Act, read in its entirety, includes stable domestic partnerships within the definition of 'immediate family' " under two pertinent laws, Hicks said in a one-page, handwritten order entered into the Superior Court record Friday.
The ruling appeared to be the first to address the issue of same-sex domestic partners, said Janet Chung of the law center. But Employment Security spokesman Mark Varadian said the ruling "doesn't apply beyond this particular case," and the agency "would still be looking at cases like this on a case-by-case basis."
In his ruling, Hicks reversed the Employment Security position on Lake and sent the matter back to the department for the awarding of benefits and attorney fees. Varadian said the agency won't appeal and understands it is "on the hook" for legal fees for Northwest Women's Law Center and The Unemployment Law Project, which handled Lake's 2007 suit.
Lake and Sisneros were in a committed relationship and owned bank accounts and property together, Women's Law Center executive director Lisa Stone said in a news release. After Lake used all of his vacation and sick leave to care for his partner, his employer denied him additional leave and he left the job.
"It is unfair and immoral to force people like Mr. Lake who are in stable, long-term relationships — especially couples who are unable to marry — to choose between their economic security and caring for the persons they love during times of illness," Stone added. "Now the judge has affirmed that is it also illegal and that such partners are equally entitled to unemployment benefits."
Employment Security defines "immediate family" to include "spouses and children, but also stepchildren, foster children, parents of either spouse, and other relatives who temporarily or permanently reside in the same household," the release said.
Lake could not be reached immediately to comment.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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