Harris v. Millennium Hotel
Case representing same-sex partner of shooting victim seeking survivor benefits in Alaska.
The same-sex partner of Debbie Harris was killed when a disgruntled former employee who had been fired returned to work with a gun and shot her. Under Alaska’s workers’ compensation law, the spouse of a person who dies from a work-related injury is eligible to receive survivor benefits, but same-sex partners are excluded from that legal protection. These benefits minimize disruption to family members who relied upon the deceased worker’s income. Debbie and her partner were in a committed relationship for more than a decade and would have married if they could have done so, but Debbie is barred from receiving the same financial protections as married heterosexual couples simply because she was in a same-sex relationship.
Lambda Legal is representing Debbie in her legal challenge that the State of Alaska’s exclusion of same-sex couples from survivor benefits violates the constitutional guarantees of equality secured by both the Alaska and U.S. constitutions. The proceeding names Millennium Hotel because it employed Debbie’s partner, but the legal challenge is against the State of Alaska’s exclusion of same-sex couples from survivor benefits.
- September 2012 Lambda Legal files legal papers with the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board commencing a constitutional challenge.
- March 2013 The Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board issues a decision, denying Debbie’s claim on statutory grounds without ruling upon her constitutional challenge.
- April 2013 Lambda Legal files a notice of appeal with the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission.
- June 2013 The Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission issues a decision, affirming the denial of Debbie’s claim on statutory grounds without ruling upon her constitutional challenge.
- July 2013 Lambda Legal files a notice of appeal with the Alaska Supreme Court.
- May 2014 The Alaska Supreme Court hears oral argument.To watch a video of the oral argument, click here.
- July 25, 2014 Victory! The Alaska Supreme Court unanimously rules that the State’s exclusion of lesbian and gay partners from survivor benefits violates the constitutional guarantee of equal protection.