FACT CHECK: Agema Claimed American Airlines Forced By San Francisco To Provide Benefits To Gay Couples

By Todd Heywood

Former State Rep. Dave Agema, a Republican from Grandville, has been making national headlines again for inflammatory claims about the LGBT community. In his most recent comments, he claims the city of San Francisco forced American Airlines (his former employer) to provide domestic partner benefits.

The Herald Palladium in Benton Harbor provides a transcriptof his full comments. Here is the relevant claim:

"I know what happened to American Airlines when San Francisco said we could not land in San Francisco and do business with American Airlines unless we paid same sex unmarried benefits."

The problem? Agema's claim does not match the facts provided by history.

The City of San Francisco passed an ordinance requiring all contractors to the city to provide domestic partner benefits in 1996 and 1997. Among those contractors were airlines, including United and American. United, which had a larger presence in the city's airport, challenged the ordinance in federal court. The airlines were represented by their industry interest groups,Air Transport Association of America and Airline Industrial Relations Conference The Federal Express Corporation also joined the suit as a plaintiff.

The federal court sided with the airline industry in 1998, ruling the city had over stepped its bounds under federal law. In an April 10, 1998 ruling filed in the federal court, Judge Claudia Wilkens - a 1993 Clinton appointee - wrote:

"In sum, the Ordinance is unconstitutional as applied to out-of-State conduct that is unrelated to the purpose of a City contract. It is federally preempted as applied to Airport contracts insofar as it affects ERISA plans providing ERISA-covered benefits. With respect to other [*5] benefits, the Ordinance is also federally preempted if the burden of complying with the otherwise-valid portions of the Ordinance practically forces air carriers to stop using the Airport."

In months later, in August of 1998, American Airlines announced it would offer domestic partner benefits to same-sex partners.

A report by the San Francisco Gate cited the company's explanation for the benefits offer thusly:

"Tim Kincaid, a spokesman for American Airlines, said the airline made the decision after receiving several requests from its single employees. The airline, which is based in Fort Worth, Texas, has 107,000 employees worldwide, including 10,000 who work forAmerican Eagle.

"We just feel that the time was right to do it," Kincaid said. He said that those couples who cannot legally marry will receive the same benefits as American's married employees. About two-thirds of the company's employees are married.

"A lot of other companies have had good experiences with it," he said. "It's in the best interests of our employees and our company."

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