Alaska murder victim's partner denied survivor benefits

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A woman whose partner was shot dead by a disgruntled former employee is suing under Alaska’s workers’ compensation law for survivor benefits.

Deborah Harris is represented by the national Lambda Legal defense group.

Under the state law, the spouse of a person who dies from a work-related injury is eligible to receive survivor benefits — generally paid by insurance companies. However, same-sex couples are excluded because Alaska bars same-sex marriage.

Lambda filed the lawsuit a year after the death of Kerry Fadely, a food and beverage manager at the Millennium Hotel in Anchorage, Alaska. A former employee she had fired nine days earlier fatally shot Fadely.

Not long after Fadely was murdered, Harris had to leave the home they shared.

“When Kerry was killed, it was like a hole had been punched in my heart,” she said. “We loved each other and were together for more than a decade in a committed relationship. But because we could not marry, I was unable to receive the same financial protections that the state provides to married heterosexual couples.”

Alaska does not recognize same-sex relationships in any manner – not as marriages, civil unions or domestic partnerships.

Harris’ suit challenges Alaska’s exclusion of same-sex couples from eligibility survivor benefits, which vary based on a deceased worker’s salary.

The case says the exclusion violates the state and federal constitutional guarantees of equality.

“The safety net to catch families in times of crisis should not have a gay exception,” said Lambda attorney Peter Renn. “Imagine losing the person you love most in your life, under the most horrifying of circumstances, and then imagine the government telling you that, legally, your relationship meant nothing. That’s what same-sex couples in Alaska face.”