Following a request from New York governor George Pataki, the unemployment insurance appeal board has agreed to reconsider its decision denying unemployment benefits to Jeanne Newland, a lesbian who left her job in Rochester to relocate out of state with her life partner. "We are pleased that Governor Pataki has stepped in on this matter," said Romana Mancini, who represents Newland on behalf of the American Civil Liberties Union's Lesbian and Gay Rights Project. "We are hopeful that the appeal board will now recognize that Jeanne Newland, who has been in a committed relationship with her partner for nearly six years, is entitled to equal treatment."
The ACLU filed an appeal on behalf of Newland that is pending in the New York supreme court's appellate division. In a letter to the court, the state attorney general's office has asked the appellate
division to refrain from deciding the case, pending reconsideration by the appeal board.
Newland worked as a technical support representative for Element K, an educational technology company located in Rochester. She left her job in November 2000 to be with her partner, who had accepted a higher paying job in Virginia. After the couple moved, Newland looked aggressively for employment but had no luck. After nine months of searching, she was urged by the local unemployment office to file for benefits from the state of New York, which regularly grants such benefits to married couples and occasionally to engaged couples.
The legal standard by which the department of labor reviews such matters is not based on marriage but on whether the person seeking benefits had "good cause" to leave his or her job. Nevertheless, when Newland applied for benefits, she was denied because she is not married to her partner.
"I hope that our relationship and commitment to each other will finally be recognized for what it is," Newland said. "After having such a difficult time finding a job and struggling financially, it's encouraging to know that my case may make a difference to other lesbian and gay couples who find themselves in the position that I was in."