A decision by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholding
San Francisco’s equal benefits law will have far-reaching effects and is a
positive sign for cities considering similar ordinances.
“The San Francisco law has been a model for other cities that are committed
to workplace equality for their lesbian and gay citizens,” said Kim I.
Mills, HRC’s education director who oversees HRC WorkNet, the organization’s
workplace project. “This decision is good news for lesbian and gay workers,
millions of whom are already benefiting from the spread of domestic partner
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Thursday rejected
arguments by S.D. Myers Inc., an Ohio electrical company, that the law was
unconstitutional because it interfered with interstate commerce. The court
said any burden on interstate commerce “does not clearly outweigh the city’s
legitimate interest in applying the ordinance to those with whom it
The law, which took effect in 1997, requires companies with city contracts
or leases to provide the same benefits to unmarried employees and their
partners as they do to married couples. It was the first of its kind in the
nation and has had a dramatic impact on the proliferation of domestic
“The San Francisco law created a cascade effect through major market
sectors, starting with commercial airlines,” said Mills, whose 1999 report,
“The State of the Workplace for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered
Workers,” documented the law’s initial impact. “Other sectors that quickly
followed were banking and oil and gas.” Some 76 percent of all employers
known to be offering DP benefits in 1999 could be attributed to the
enactment of the San Francisco law, Mills added. Currently, more than 3,700
U.S. employers offer domestic partner benefits, according to HRC WorkNet,
The electrical company, S.D. Myers Inc., sued after it lost a contract to do
maintenance on city-owned transformers because it refused on religious
grounds to promise to abide by the law. The company was represented by the
American Center for Law and Justice, the legal arm of Pat Robertson’s
The appeals court has not yet ruled on a separate case in which the airline
industry, represented by the Air Transport Association, raised different
arguments to challenge the law.
Following San Francisco, several other cities and localities passed similar
laws, including Seattle, Los Angeles, Berkeley, Calif., and San Mateo
County, Calif. Broward County, Fla., passed a law giving first preference to
contractors that offer equal benefits.
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