Lambda Legal Seeks Benefits for Alaska Shooting Victim's Partner

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September 24, 2012
Lambda Legal client Deborah Harris

Lambda Legal is challenging Alaska's exclusion of same-sex couples from survivor benefits, on behalf of a woman whose partner was shot dead by a disgruntled former employee.

Under Alaska’s workers’ compensation law, the spouse of a person who dies from a work-related injury is eligible to receive survivor benefits—generally paid by insurance companies—but same-sex couples are excluded from that legal protection, because the state does not allow same-sex couples to marry.

Lambda Legal's filing today comes a year after the death of Kerry Fadely, a food and beverage manager at the Millennium Hotel in Anchorage. An employee whom Fadely had fired nine days earlier returned to the hotel with a pistol, asked for Fadely, and shot her multiple times. Shortly after Fadely's death, her partner, Deborah Harris, had to abandon the home they shared.

Harris says:

When Kerry was killed, it was like a hole had been punched in my heart. We loved each other and were together for more than a decade in a committed relationship. But because we could not marry, I was unable to receive the same financial protections that the state provides to married heterosexual couples.

Unlike several other states, Alaska does not even provide same-sex couples with access to the rights and responsibilities of marriage through a secondary status such as registered domestic partnerships or civil unions.

Harris is not challenging Alaska’s exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage, but she is challenging the state’s exclusion of same-sex couples from eligibility for survivor benefits. The benefits minimize disruption to family members who relied upon the deceased worker’s income and thus vary in amount depending on the worker’s salary.

In papers filed today with the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board, Lambda Legal claims that the discrimination violates the constitutional guarantees of equality secured by both the Alaska and U.S. Constitutions.

Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Peter Renn says:

The safety net to catch families in times of crisis should not have a gay exception. Imagine losing the person you love most in your life, under the most horrifying of circumstances, and then imagine the government telling you that, legally, your relationship meant nothing. That’s what same-sex couples in Alaska face.

Learn more about the case here.