Tuesday, May 3, 2011



(West Palm Beach, Florida) The Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners directed county staff this morning to update the County's Merit System Rules and Regulations to allow County employees with domestic partners to take the same family and medical leave granted to married employees under federal law.

County Commissioner Paulette Burdick, a longtime proponent of equal rights for the county's gay and lesbian community, proposed the change in response to a request by the Palm Beach County Human Rights Council, a local nonprofit organization dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, gender identity and gender expression.

The Council has been the leading advocate in Florida for domestic partnership since 1992, when the City of West Palm Beach became the state's first public employer to provide basic domestic partnership benefits.

The existing county regulations are based on the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which allows married employees to take up to 12 weeks unpaid, job-protected leave to care for spouses with medical issues.

"When it comes to so many aspects of the law, Congress refuses to enact laws recognizing that gay men and lesbians form families," said Palm Beach County Human Rights Council President Rand Hoch. "And that is not going to change any time soon."

Since the federal law does not recognize nontraditional families, employees in domestic partnerships – including gay and lesbian employees – are limited to no more than 13 days pursuant to the county's sick leave policy.

"That's not fair," Hoch told the county commissioners. "It's hypocritical. It's discriminatory."

County Commissioners agreed, and unanimously voted to equalize the family and medical leave benefits.

"Palm Beach County government employs many gay and lesbian employees in committed family relationships. Unfortunately, the State of Florida and the federal government do not recognize these relationships," said Burdick. "Under the new county policy, all county employees will have the same family leave benefits. In Palm Beach County we will not tolerate discrimination."

According to county staff, 53 Palm Beach County employees have registered domestic partners.

Across Florida, 58 public employers – 17 of which are located in Palm Beach County – have policies offering domestic partnership benefits to their employees.

"Perhaps one day, the state of Florida and the federal government will end their discrimination against non-traditional families," said Hoch. "Until that day comes, it is incumbent upon county and municipal officials to take action to protect all families." [5/3/11]