UH reaches settlement in gay pair’s housing suit
The University of Hawaii has settled a discrimination lawsuit by a gay couple who said they were denied family housing.
Attorney Brian Chase of Lambda Legal Defense and Education Fund Inc., one of the couple's attorneys, said he believes the suit is the first against a public university involving housing for same-sex couples.
"We think what the university is doing is fair, and both the university and clients are happy with outcome," said Chase of the national organization to protect the civil rights of homosexuals, bisexuals, transgenders and those with HIV.
The university's policy on family housing was revised as a result of the settlement to include same-sex couples. The policy change took effect for the 2008-2009 school year. A $5,000 settlement was also reached for Joseph O'Leary and Phi Ngo, who have since moved to Virginia.
"I think it's a positive message that the university recognizes committed same-sex couples should be permitted equal access to housing," said attorney Clyde Wadsworth, who also represented the couple.
O'Leary and Ngo lived in family housing at the Manoa campus for the 2006-2007 school year while O'Leary worked toward a bachelor's degree in history. Ngo attended a private college in Honolulu. Their family housing application was denied for the 2007-2008 school year.
The couple is registered with the state Department of Health as reciprocal beneficiaries. O'Leary and Ngo ended up paying more than twice the amount to rent a private apartment than what they would have paid for a family unit on campus.
The family housing policy was revised to include domestic partners and domestic partners with children. According to the new policy, "students with partners must provide a certified copy of legal documentation that demonstrates that the student and partner have entered into a marriage, domestic partnership or civil union."
Same-sex couples also have the option of showing documents of joint responsibility for each other's welfare such as a joint checking account, reciprocal beneficiary documents and designation of domestic partner as beneficiary of retirement death benefits.
UH spokesman Gregg Takayama said, "I think the settlement speaks for itself. The policy have been revised to treat same-sex couples as our married couples."