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Domestic-Partners Accord To Cover N.Y.C. Employees

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Domestic partners of New York City public school employees will be eligible to receive health benefits under a settlement reached late last month between Mayor David N. Dinkins and municipal-employee unions.

The settlement entitles unwed heterosexual or homosexual couples with a worker on the city payroll to the same benefits as their married counterparts.

New York City is by far the largest city to adopt an ordinance recognizing so-called "domestic partnerships.'' About a dozen cities, including San Francisco, Boston, and Seattle, have passed such ordinances, but not all of them offer taxpayer-funded benefits, and only some of those that do offer domestic-partner benefits extend them to teachers.

The New York settlement, which takes effect Jan. 1, stems from a lawsuit filed five years ago by the Lesbian and Gay Teachers Association.

"We felt our families were not being recognized,'' said Ronald W. Madson, a teacher and one of the plaintiffs named in the lawsuit. He and his partner had been together 17 years at the time the suit was filed.

The city fought the lawsuit, citing the potential expense and a state insurance regulation that barred granting benefits to unmarried partners. About a month ago, the state insurance commissioner revised the rule, opening the door for the settlement.

In the interim, both a trial and an appellate court ruled in the association's favor, and the New York State Court of Appeals, the state's highest court, refused to hear the case.

The settlement was signed three days before New York's mayoral election.

Cost Uncertain

It is uncertain how many persons will be affected by the settlement or how much money it will cost.

Based on the experience of other cities, officials of the United Federation of Teachers, which supported the association's lawsuit, estimate costs will rise 1 percent to 2 percent.

The city and unions have made an initial commitment of $30 million to cover the costs.

In 1989, the city's board of education adopted a policy that allowed bereavement leave for unwed partners. About 200 of the district's 120,000 workers took advantage of the policy, according to Randi Weingarten, the U.F.T. counsel.

"You don't get to save money by cutting out [people] who are entitled to benefits,'' said Evan Wolfson, a senior attorney for the Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund, which represented the gay teachers' group.

In order to receive the benefits, city and school employees will have to register their domestic partnerships with the city and produce proof of financial interdependence.

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