June 8, 2007
Volume 35
Issue 23
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Saturday, Aug 08, 2020



Religious Coalition for Equality seeks Executive Director
Bellevue council adopts domestic partner benefits for city employees
Bellevue council adopts domestic partner benefits for city employees
Newcastle also adopts benefits this week

by Lisa Wardle - SGN Staff Writer

Two months after a lawsuit was brought against the city of Bellevue seeking workplace benefits for city employees, the City Council finally granted domestic partner benefits to same-sex and elderly couples this past Monday. In a 7-0 vote, the Council decided to change the city's employee policies, giving domestic partners the same benefits as heterosexual spouses. These include health insurance, eye care, dental coverage, and access to leave.

During the Council Study Session on May 21st, when the proposal was put forward, City Attorney Lori Riordan mentioned that "[in] particular, weíd be proposing to change our bereavement leave benefits so that if a family member of a domestic partner of one of our employees passed away, the employee would be able to take leave to attend the funeral of that parent. That specificity was an allusion to Larry DeGroen, one of the three plaintiffs in the Bellevue suit back in April.

Firefighter Larry DeGroen had told his superiors that he needed time off of work to attend the funeral of his partner's father. Assuming that it would be classified as paid funeral leave, Larry was surprised to learn that his absence had been written as emergency leave. It was not something that I wanted to do. I am a reluctant activist. We are good contributors and supporters of Lambda, we always looked [at it] as us doing our part, but seeing something so close to us happen; we had to do something, he said. So he filed suit against the city, with the help of Lambda Legal and two other city employees.

Surprised by the amount of interest generated in the lawsuit, DeGroen believed that "it could happen to anybody and, due to his profession in firefighting, this particular story appealed to middle America. Without the lawsuit, he said that Bellevue would have never changed its policies. By filing the case, the city realized that they would have been forced to concede if they had fought. Bad press was surrounding the city, and they would do anything to get rid of it.

Since his first year on the job, the attitude towards Gay people has changed greatly in his profession. While still on probation after starting the job, Larry made the difficult choice to confront his supervisorís homophobic remarks. An episode of Friends with a Gay marriage had triggered the supervisor to walk into the firehouse and say many hurtful and anti-Gay remarks. DeGroen sunk in his chair, unsure of whether to say something or not. He could have been kicked out for anything, but after 48 hours, decided to tackle the issue and tell his supervisor. Now, not only is his individual firehouse more accepting but the entire city will be.

Following the footsteps of Bellevue, the city of Newcastle also adopted changes to their employee benefits. On May 30th, the ordinance was filed to extend healthcare to domestic partners and their dependents. Bob Baker, on vacation from being a City Clerk, was pleased when he heard about the Council's proposal. "It made me realize we, too, could be a progressive City - moving and shaking with others in the state to provide excellent benefits to all employees and their families."

Through the Newcastle policy, an employee must present an affidavit to prove his/her domestic partnership in order to receive the provision of benefits, the same process that a married employee would go through. Once completed, the employee's partner will have the same access to healthcare coverage as a spouse. Directly after the vote in Bellevue Monday, the Newcastle City Council approved their ordinance in a 7-0 vote on Tuesday. Newcastle's policy will go into effect June 13th, proving that Washington State is making progress in the equal treatment of Gay citizens and workers. Though it may have been initiated by a lawsuit and negative media attention towards Bellevue, the changes are sure to help many people for years to come.

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