The Palm Beach County Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO) issued two rulings earlier this week finding that the School District of Palm Beach County discriminated against employees with domestic partners by charging excessive health insurance premiums.
The OEO also reinforced that the School District was subject to the County's Equal Employment Ordinance.
"District administrators have been under the mistaken belief for years that they did not have to comply with the county's equal employment ordinance," said Rand Hoch, President of the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council. "Hopefully these two rulings will now put an end to their discriminatory practices."
After extensive lobbying by the Council, in 2005 the school district first offered employees the opportunity to purchase health insurance for their domestic partners. However, instead of charging the same premiums being paid by married employees, the district charged employees with domestic partners a minimum of $4,200 per year more for the same coverage.
"While the Council repeatedly advised the district that charging higher premiums was discriminatory, the School Board refused to equalize the premiums," said Hoch.
With the school district continuing to remain steadfast in their legal position, the Council recruited Barbara Dilthey and Marlo Tamayo to file charges of discrimination against the school district to resolve the legal issues.
"After two years of being ignored, litigation was our only recourse," said Hoch.
In April, 2007, the Council introduced Dilthey and Tamayo to ACLU cooperating attorney Jim Green, who promptly filed charges of discrimination against the school district with the OEO.
Although in the response , the school district maintained that it was not bound by the county ordinance and that no discrimination had occurred, the two orders issued by the OEO found no merit in the school district's defenses.
Ruling in favor of Dilthey and Tamayo, the OEO determined in that the school district was in violation of the Palm Beach Equal Employment Ordinance, which makes it illegal for an employer to discriminate in the provision of employment benefits, regardless of an employee's marital status.
Tamayo and Dilthey are now contemplating civil litigation against the school district. "The School Board can't say with one hand that they support equal benefits, while simultaneously using the other hand to shun their employees," said Jim Green, West Palm Beach-based ACLU cooperating attorney. "We are thrilled at the OEO's decision, and will be here to assist both Tamayo and Dilthey in their efforts to achieve equality."
"Now that the OEO has ruled that the school district is subject to the County's Equal Employment Ordinance, perhaps the district finally will amend its nondiscrimination policies to conform to the law," said Hoch.
Copies of the OEO's decision can be found at www.aclufl.org/pdfs/dilthey.pdf and www.aclufl.org/pdfs/tamayo.pdf