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Judge grants class certification in domestic partners case

lA federal judge on Dec. 23 allowed roughly 230 gay and lesbian state employees to be plaintiffs in a lawsuit seeking to block an Arizona policy that denies benefits for domestic partners.

Attorney Dan Barr, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, said they sought class certification to protect their claims in case the original plaintiffs left their jobs in the course of lengthy litigation.

“(If) the named plaintiffs have changes in the circumstances in their lives, it doesn’t affect the ability of the whole class of people to get relief,” Barr said.

The lawsuit was filed in 2009 and has gone to the U.S. Supreme Court.  It is back in U.S. District Court in Phoenix.

The state did not oppose the motion for class certification.

“Give the state credit for not fighting on something that is a foregone conclusion,” Barr said.

Stephanie Grisham, a spokeswoman for the state Attorney General, said none of the attorneys defending the case were immediately available for comment.

The state used to recognize domestic partners, defined as same or different sex, as dependents. The policy was installed by former Gov. Janet Napolitano by executive order.

Gov. Jan Brewer signed a law terminating the benefits for domestic partners. Brewer defended the law, which was passed in a budget bill, as a way to address the state’s financial crisis at the time.

A group of gay and lesbian state employees who have life partners filed suit in November 2009, alleging the law discriminated against gays and lesbians because they couldn’t marry in Arizona, while different sex couples could.

The U.S. Supreme Court in June upheld two lower-court rulings that found the law unconstitutional. Judge John Sedwick, who granted the class status, put the law temporarily on hold in 2010 while the case is litigated.

The class consists of about 230 gay and lesbian employees who receive family health benefits from the state and all of the employees who are currently eligible or will be in the future, according to the motion asking for class status.

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