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After complaint by lesbian lieutenant, Coral Gables on verge of offering domestic-partner benefits to police

Following a complaint by a lesbian Coral Gables police lieutenant denied bereavement leave when her partner's father died, the city has tentatively agreed to provide sworn officers with domestic-partner benefits, according to SAVE Dade, the county's largest gay-rights group.

"Lieutenant Rene Tastet has been in a committed and loving relationship with her partner for over 9 years," reads a memo sent Monday from John Baublitz, president of the Coral Gables Fraternal Order of Police. "Lieutenant Tastet requested Bereavement Leave for the loss of her Father-in-law, whom she respected and loved dearly. Lieutenant Tastet wanted the time to grieve for her loss and be there to support her partner during her time of mourning."

The city, which does not provide unmarried municipal employees with domestic-partner benefits, denied Tastet's request. Gay and lesbian couples are not permitted by law to marry in Florida, nor are same-sex marriages elsewhere recognized by the state.

After being denied leave, Tastet — a Coral Gables employee since 1990 — filed a complaint with the city and FOP.

"She filed a grievance initially, but she never took it to the arbitration route," Coral Gables Human Resources director Elsa Jaramillo-Velez told The Miami Herald.

About the time Tastet filed her complaint, someone notified SAVE Dade, which launched an online campaign for city domestic partner benefits.

"The City of Coral Gables knows its policies discriminate against LGBT employees by not extending them the health and employee benefits their heterosexual colleagues automatically receive as part of their employment," according to a SAVE Dade email sent in June to supporters. "They know this because SAVE Dade brought it to their attention after we were contacted by one of their own who was denied bereavement leave rights. She was denied this right simply because she is lesbian."

Several LGBT activists contacted City Hall to complain.

"As part of the on-going negotiations, there is currently a domestic partner benefits proposal that was made by the City," wrote the city's external labor attorney, Denise M. Heekin, to SAVE Dade supporter Nicholas Piñeiro. "It provides greater benefits than the proposal that was made by the Fraternal Order of Police. The City will negotiate domestic partner benefits with the bargaining units represented by the Teamsters and the International Association of Fire Fighters."

That satisfied the FOP.

"Coral Gables FOP Members share the same risks and dangers on the job no matter their sex, color, race, religion, marital status or sexual orientation and therefore should be treated equally by the City," Baublitz wrote.

Eighty-five percent of all Coral Gables employees are represented by unions, Jaramillo-Velez said.

Domestic-partner benefits for the remaining 15 percent of nonunion employees might be granted after labor negotiations are completed, she said.

"We always deal with the unions first," she said.

C.J. Ortuño, executive director of SAVE Dade, says the city shouldn't wait to offer partner benefits to all employees.

“We deserve to understand why the City is taking this approach versus passing an ordinance that will affect all employees immediately," Ortuño said. "With a majority of Fortune 500 companies offering their employees domestic partner benefits – and the city of Coral Gables having a number of businesses that already offer these benefits – the question remains what is Coral Gables waiting for?”