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Partners To Get Airline Benefits

July 31, 1999

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) _ United Airlines agreed to extend some benefits to domestic partners, just hours after an appeals court refused to grant the company an exemption to a city ordinance mandating the benefits.

The law, which took effect June 1, 1997, requires companies doing business with San Francisco to offer the same benefits to domestic partners as they do to married spouses.

In May, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken directed airlines to comply with portions of the law for their employees in San Francisco. But she also ruled that the airlines did not have to compy with the ordinance’s pension and health benefits requirements.

The airlines appealed and asked for a temporary exemption from the law while the appellate court reviewed the case. Friday’s ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the temporary exemption. However, the appeal over the merits of the original case is still ongoing.

The ruling means the carriers, represented by the Air Transport Association of America, must begin Monday to offer bereavement leave, family medical leave and spousal flight discounts to San Francisco domestic partners.

United said it will begin offering family benefits to non-married families nationwide next May. The company has 20,000 employees in San Francisco.

``We are delighted that United Airlines chose to do the right thing, even if we had to force them to do it,″ said Jeff Sheehy, a spokesman for the city’s Equal Benefits Advocates, which had organized a boycott of United.

``As we have said from the very outset, this case has never been about gay and lesbian rights,″ said United Chairman James Goodwin. ``What we oppose _ and what we will continue to oppose _ are local municipalities intruding upon the federal domain by attempting to legislate the employee benefits package of companies like airlines doing business nationwide.″

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