The Civil Rights Agenda (TCRA) announced that a reporter has filed suit against the City of Springfield over a recent vote to allow civil-union spouses to access insurance benefits.
Bruce Rushton, a reporter for the Illinois Times claims that the Joint Labor/Management Health Care Committee violated the open meetings act in holding a closed vote Jan. 10, TCRA said.
The suit could void the vote, which reversed the committee's previous decision to deny city employees in a civil-union spousal benefits.
Anthony Martinez and Lowell Jaffe of TCRA attended the meeting in case they were called to testify in favor of the benefits extension. They confirmed that the meeting was held behind closed doors.
Martinez said that the lawsuit would not stop efforts to ensure that civil union spouses get accesses to benefits in Springfield.
"However, we must recognize that failure to meet the criteria of the Open Meetings Act is also a civil-rights violation," Martinez said in a statement. "This definitely complicates matters, but the issues addressed in this lawsuit, if found valid, will only ensure the citizens of Springfield will be afforded a government aligned with the ideals of civil liberties for all."
The committee initially voted against extending to benefits due to an actuarial projection that it would cost the city $725,000. The committee argued that vote was legal because the city is self-insured. However, no city employee in a civil union had inquired about the benefits, and a revised projection put the cost at $66,000.
Activists hailed the committee's revote as a win for LGBT rights, but added that they felt the city was legally required to extend the benefits anyway due to the civil-unions act.
"It seems to us that the Committee and the City Council has received bad advice regarding the City's requirement to fulfill its obligations under Illinois laws as it relates to civil rights," said Jaffe in a statement. "Although it's difficult to see this issue drag on, we hope doing so will remedy what has clearly been a wrong approach, and has deprived the citizens of Springfield the transparency they deserve."