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Couple Sues SkyWest for Gay Bias Discrimination

November 17, 2009

In recent California employment discrimination news, a baggage agent for SkyWest Airlines who married his male partner last year when the California Supreme Court legalized unions for same-sex couples, is accusing the airline of breaking the law by refusing to give his husband the same heterosexual spousal treatment--free airline fares.

The agent, Gilbert Caldwell, has been working for SkyWest since September of 2004 at the Palm Springs International Airport, and married his partner of 34 years in June of last year. They have also been registered domestic partners in California since 2002.

SkyWest airlines maintains a discriminatory employee benefits policy for gays and lesbians with travel, claiming that Caldwell's husband is not entitled to the same benefits that are given to heterosexual workers who are married. Under the airline program designated for friends, Caldwell's husband classifies as a "companion" and is not eligible to fly for free on the SkyWest-operated Delta connection flights. Caldwell is forced to pay a fare for his spouse, whereas spouses of heterosexual employees do not pay.

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, this is one of the first cases to appear after 18,000 gay and lesbian couples were married when the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage in May of last year. After the passing of Proposition 8 in November of 2008--the proposition that amended the state Constitution, and reclassified marriage as being only between a woman and a man--the rights to gays and lesbians were overturned, but the state court ruled that same-sex couples who exchanged pre-election vows could remain legally wed.

According to California state law, domestic partners and same-sex partners should receive the same treatment and have the same rights and duties as heterosexual married couples in housing, employment, insurance, and commerce.

SkyWest reportedly claimed that the company's travel benefit policy is based on that of Delta Air Lines, the regional airline partner, and that Delta denies same-sex couples equal benefits. But according to Caldwell's lawyer, Tara Borelli, from the gay-rights organization Lambda Legal, Delta treats lesbian and gay employees with equality.

Borelli claims travel benefits are an integral part of compensation for the SkyWest employee, and that denying travel benefits for same-sex spouses is denying "equal pay for equal work." Lambda Legal has sent a letter to both SkyWest and Delta asking for clarification on these discriminatory employment practices--warning the airline companies that their treatment of same-sex spouses and registered domestic partners violates California law. Caldwell will file a lawsuit claiming damages unless SkyWest and Delta change their policies.

SkyWest Accused of Bias Against Gay Couples, San Francisco Chronicle, October 31, 2009

Lambda Legal Warns SkyWest and Delta Air Lines To Stop Discriminating Against Married Gay Employees, Lambda Legal Press Release, October 29, 2009

Related Web Articles:

Lambda Legal: California's Registered Domestic Partnerships

California Secretary of State: Domestic Partners Registry