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April 11, 1996

Faculty member who filed complaint about health care benefits is leaving Pitt

A faculty member in the School of Law who filed a discrimination complaint against Pitt for refusing to extend health care benefits to her same-sex partner will leave the University at the end of the academic term.

Deborah Henson said her departure on April 27 will have no effect on the complaint she filed in January with the Pittsburgh Human Relations Commission.

"It doesn't really affect our case or our complaint because it doesn't really matter if I am here or not," Henson said. "The economic harm that was suffered remains and I still want the policy to be changed here at the University." In her complaint, which was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Henson alleges that the University violated a city ordinance that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation when it refused to extend health care coverage to her same-sex partner.

At an ACLU press conference announcing the complaint in January, Henson noted that she and her partner have lived together for nine years, jointly own a home, share finances and "consider ourselves to be spouses." The complaint contends that "virtually all" heterosexual workers at the University can obtain health care coverage for their partners of the opposite sex. Pitt's decision to deny Henson's partner the same benefits made Henson's contract less valuable, the complaint says.

The complaint seeks to have the Commission order Pitt to enroll her partner in the school's health care plan, a point that will become moot when Henson departs, and to reimburse Henson for the value of the denied coverage since her hiring. Henson, who joined the law school faculty in July 1994 as a legal writing instructor, will become a judicial clerk with the Louisiana Supreme Court in New Orleans on Aug. 1.

According to Henson, it was a combination of both personal and professional factors that made her decide to leave Pitt, among them the University's decision to fight her complaint.

"As I had indicated in my complaint, it seems like there is hostility toward gay and lesbian employees here at the University," she said. "That was definitely one of several factors." The ACLU agreed to file the complaint because a ruling in Henson's favor could set a precedent for all other employers in the city.

–Mike Sajna

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