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Airlines Sue S.F. Over Domestic Partner Benefits

May 14, 1997| From Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO — U.S. airlines filed a federal suit Tuesday to block a San Francisco ordinance requiring them to offer health benefits to domestic partners of their employees.

The lawsuit filed by the Air Transport Assn., which represents the nation's major airlines, says the city has no right to regulate air carriers.

"Airlines have always been governed by federal, not local, laws because it would be impossible to operate in hundreds of communities with different and possibly contradictory local ordinances," said association President Carol Hallett.

Federal law specifically prohibits local governments from mandating employee benefits to national companies, she said.

San Francisco Supervisor Susan Leal said she was disappointed by the suit. "It's very sad that they feel so strongly about not providing equality that they can't work with the city, they just have to sue the city," she said.

The ordinance approved last year goes into effect June 1. The lawsuit seeks an injunction barring enforcement of the law. Leal said the city attorney's office will oppose the lawsuit.

Supported by the city's powerful gay community, the ordinance requires companies doing business with San Francisco to offer the same benefits to legally registered domestic partners as they do to spouses.

Hallett emphasized that the lawsuit was not anti-gay.

"This is not a moral issue and has nothing to do with sexual orientation," she said. "If another community passed an ordinance requiring that we could not provide benefits to domestic partners, we would file the same lawsuit."

The Washington-based Air Transport Assn. represents 22 domestic carriers that fly 95% of the nation's cargo and passenger traffic.

Leal expressed skepticism about Hallett's comments.

"That's could have, would have," she said. "The reality is they are fighting an ordinance that is asking for equality."

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