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SkyWest accused of bias against Gays
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SkyWest accused of bias against Gays

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Staff Writer

Gilbert Caldwell, a SkyWest Airlines baggage agent who has worked for the company since September 2004, says the airline is breaking state law by refusing to give his husband the free fares it provides to heterosexual spouses.

Caldwell, 56, married his partner of 34 years, Rev. David Farrell, 72, last year in June after the California State Supreme Court legalized same-sex unions. They had been registered domestic partners since 2002.

SkyWest, an equal opportunity employer, says Caldwell's husband is his "travel companion" and is entitled to fly at a discount, but not for free, Caldwell told the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this month. "I am asking SkyWest to give me the same benefits that they give my married heterosexual co-workers."

State law entitles same-sex spouses and domestic partners to be the same as heterosexual married couples in employment, housing, insurance and commerce.

The case is one of the first discrimination complaints to surface by any of the 18,000 same-sex couples who married in California before the November 2008 passage of Proposition 8, which amended the state Constitution to define marriage as the union of a man and a woman, which overturned the state Supreme Court's May 2008 ruling that extended marital rights to Gays and Lesbians. The state court upheld Prop. 8 this past May but ruled that couples who married before the election would remain legally wed.

Tara Borelli, Staff Attorney of the Gay rights organization Lambda Legal, has been assigned the case.

Borelli said the company's position for the last year was that Delta Air Lines, its partner in regional flights in the West, insisted on denying equal benefits to same-sex couples. She said SkyWest's explanation is hard to believe because Delta has a policy of treating its own Gay and Lesbian employees equally.

Caldwell's attorney sent a letter on November 5 to both SkyWest and Delta, asking them to clarify what role each company played in "crafting and implementing this discriminatory policy."

"This is a blatant violation of California State law requiring that married same-sex couples be treated with the same respect and protections as married heterosexuals," said Borelli. "Travel benefits are an important part of airline employees' compensation, and denying spousal travel benefits to married Lesbian and Gay employees is a denial of equal pay for equal work."

Borelli said SkyWest is telling Mr. Caldwell that "his spouse doesn't count and that his work is not as valuable as that of other employees."

Borelli said Caldwell will sue for damages unless SkyWest changes its policy.

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