Friday, September 18, 2009

LAPD officer Laura Gerritsen entitled to survivorship pension benefit from the death of her partner, LAPD officer Spree DeSha

09/18/09 Metropolitan News-Enterprise / 09/18/09 Daily Journal (subscription required):

In Gerritsen v. City of Los Angeles (Los Angeles Super.Ct. Case No. BC403760), Judge Judith C. Chirlin ruled that Los Angeles Police Deparment (LAPD) officer Laura Gerritsen is entitled to a survivorship pension from the death of her partner, LAPD officer Spree DeSha.

Under Los Angeles Admin. Code Sec. 4.2002(d)(2), to qualify for the benefit, police officers and their domestic partners must file a Declaration of Domestic Partnership; however, spouses, dependant children, or dependant parents of police officers can document their qualifying relationships after the officers have died. Gerritsen and DeSha failed to file the required affidavit before DeSha died. They did not know that they were required to file before the loss of an eligible partner, even though Gerritsen had inquired about the appropriate form to use to qualify her and her partner for a survivorship pension benefit. "The completed form, signed by DeSha, was found on DeSha’s desk after her death."

In a bench trial, Judge Chirlin ruled that the City should have provided Gerritsen "full and complete information concerning what to submit and when.” Chirlin did not reach the broader state constitutional issue that Lisa Maki, Gerritsen's attorney, had raised - whether, under Admin. Code Sec. 4.2002(d), LAPD could treat a qualifying employee differently based on the employee's domestic partnership. "It closes the door on a whole class of people," Maki said. "If you're a same-sex couple, you have to submit paper work before the death of your loved one. No other class of person has to do that while [your] spouse is still alive."

It's unclear whether the City Attorney will appeal. If it does, I believe that Maki would be able to preserve the constitutional question on appeal. In Strauss v. Horton 46 Cal.4th 364 (Cal. 2009), the California Supreme Court ruled that discrimination claims by same-sex couples must receive the most rigorous standard of constitutional review. Under a "strict scrutiny" standard, it's hard to see how the disparity under the Administrative Code would be sustained.

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