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LGBT Couples Separated |at St. Joseph’s, They Say

EUREKA, Calif. (CN) - A Catholic hospital barred LGBT couples from working in the same unit, while allowing heterosexual couples to work together, two couples allege in a lawsuit.

Nurses Donna Rotan and Pamela Hinson; and lab workers Allen McCloskey and Antonio Moreno sued St. Joseph Health in Humboldt County Superior Court for employment sexual orientation discrimination under the Fair Employment and Housing Act, and failure to prevent that discrimination.

According to the complaint, plaintiff Donna Rotan was not allowed a transfer to her partner Pamela Hinson's unit because they were "in a relationship," although heterosexual couples were allowed to work in the same unit.

St. Joseph's said that transferring Rotan to Hinson's unit would violate its "employment of relatives" policy, the complaint states.

After her transfer was denied, Rotan made a grievance to the hospital alleging she and Hinson were treated differently because of their sexual orientation, the complaint states.

Within two weeks, Rotan was advised that defendant had reviewed its employment of relatives policy and determined that Rotan's transfer would not violate the policy, but then put conditions on the transfer that were not uniformly imposed, according to the complaint.

The women rejected the conditions and Rotan said she and Hinson "simply wished to be treated the same as heterosexual couples" employed by St. Joseph's, the complaint states.

McCloskey and Moreno, married men, also were not allowed to work together, they said.

McCloskey applied for a transfer to what were advertised as open positions in the laboratory where Moreno worked, the complaint states.

When McCloskey asked about his status, laboratory manager Warren Spaulding said he believed the human resources department must have left up some notices for jobs already filled, according to the complaint.

"Mr. Spaulding also represented that there were not enough shifts to justify approving Mr. McCloskey's transfer. Nonetheless Mr. Spaulding advised that defendant [St. Joseph's Hospital] would continue to look for other candidates to fill the open position" at the lab, the complaint states.

After a second inquiry, Spaulding told McCloskey that he "would make any open laboratory position available to any current employee working at St. Joseph Hospital before honoring Mr. McCloskey's transfer application," the complaint states.

Neither worker has received the requested transfer.

Under FEHA, an employer cannot discriminate against an employee "in compensation or in terms, conditions, or privileges of employment" because of "sexual orientation."

On the other hand, related to couples, FEHA states, "Nothing in this part relating to discrimination on account of marital status shall do either of the following: ... Affect the right of an employer to reasonably regulate, for reasons of supervision, safety, security, or morale, the working of spouses in the same department, division, or facility, consistent with the rules and regulations adopted by the commission."

The couples seek punitive damages and for St. Joseph Hospital to be permanently enjoined from applying its employment of relatives policy in a discriminatory manner.

The couples are represented by Benjamin Mainzer of Zwerdling, Bragg, Mainzer & Firpo in Eureka and Gail F. Flatt of Provencher & Flatt of Santa Rosa.

St. Joseph Humboldt County's marketing director said the company could not comment about pending litigation.

Benjamin Mainzer, plaintiff's attorney, was not able to speak on the record Friday.

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