Gay teacher sues Allegheny Intermediate Unit over denial of benefits

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A gay math teacher with the Allegheny Intermediate Unit on Tuesday filed a lawsuit alleging discrimination because he is unable to receive benefits for his partner of 15 years as he would if he were married to a woman.

Bradley A. Ankney claims in his complaint filed in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas that he is being denied benefits based on his sexual orientation.

Among them, he listed health insurance for his partner, as well as time off to care for him if he were ill.

The benefits, the complaint said, "are conditioned on marriage, and Pennsylvania does not recognize marriages between people of the same sex."

"Here, there's no step gays and lesbians can take to get these benefits," said Sara Rose, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, who filed the lawsuit, along with the Women's Law Project.

The plaintiff, who has taught math with the AIU for 12 years, alleges violation of the Allegheny County Human Relations Act of 2009, which protects people from discrimination based on sexual orientation, and the Pennsylvania Equal Rights Amendment.

"This is about a mutual caring relationship between two adults," Mr. Ankney said. "[Marriage] is out of reach for me as a gay man, and I would like to level the playing field so I can be treated like my peers."

He is seeking a permanent injunction requiring the Intermediate Unit to provide the same benefits to those in same-sex committed relationships as it does to married employees.

Linda Hippert, the executive director of the AIU, said she could not comment on pending litigation and referred calls to solicitor William Andrews. Mr. Andrews could not be reached.

Mr. Ankney, 47, of the North Side, said he went back to school later in life after working in blue-collar jobs like woodworking and manufacturing.

"Teachers had been some of the most influential people in my life," he said.

He teaches math to students in grades seven to 12 at the AIU's Regional Educational Support Center-North in McKees Rocks. He and his partner share a home and two dogs.

It was only after his partner's job became part time, that Mr. Ankney sought benefits for the man.

He contacted a member of the AIU's human resources staff in October 2012 to ask if his partner could be covered and was told no.

"I never really got a good reason," he said. "I got a lot of no's.

"It made me feel like less than everybody else -- like less of a human being."

Later, he was told that the AIU's insurance was purchased through the Allegheny County Schools Health Insurance Consortium, and that entity did not offer domestic partner benefits.

But when Mr. Ankney contacted the consortium, he learned that it does offer those benefits, and includes them for several other members, including such school districts as Upper St. Clair, Keystone Oaks, Allegheny Valley, Steel Center Area Vocational Technical School, West Mifflin Area and Fox Chapel Area, as well as the Community College of Allegheny County.

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Paula Reed Ward: pward@post-gazette.com, 412-263-2620 or on Twitter @PaulaReedWard. First Published August 20, 2013 11:30 AM


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