Alaska Supreme Court may review case of same-sex partner denied survivor’s benefits
The partner of a woman killed last year while working at an Anchorage hotel is challenging the state’s same-sex exclusion for survivor’s benefits.
Kerry Fadely of Anchorage, 55, was working at the Millennium Hotel last October when she was shot by a former employee who she had fired nine-days earlier. Fadely was in a committed and financially-interdependent relationship with 52-year old Deborah Harris for as long as a decade. Harris talked about her relationship in a video produced by Lambda Legal and posted on YouTube.
Same-sex couples cannot get married in Alaska, and Fadely and Harris decided not to get married in another state where it is allowed. Since Harris was not considered as Fadely’s spouse, she did not receive survivor’s death benefits for a work-related fatality.
Lambda Legal attorney Peter Renn writes in filings with the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board that there have been 15 to 39 workplace fatalities in Alaska each year since 2001. Renn also cites the Census Bureau’s estimation of 1,228 same-sex couples in Alaska.
Anchorage attorney Eric Croft is assisting Lambda Legal in challenging the Alaska Worker’s Compensation Act and getting benefits for Harris. He says it’s about equality. Their case doesn’t attempt to change marriage or the definition of marriage in Alaska.
“Alaska law doesn’t recognize these long-term, committed relationships,” said Croft. “And that doesn’t treat similiarly-situated people equally.”
Croft says it could be six months to a year before the case goes to the Alaska Supreme Court after its considered by the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Board, and the Alaska Workers’ Compensation Appeals Commission.
Croft said there has been already precedent on other benefits for same-sex partners.
“The Alaska Supreme Court has already held that for state benefits and municipal benefits, that they have to have some way to recognize these long-term committed releationships. And that happened in 2005,” said Croft.