Friday, November 06, 2009

Is SkyWest Airlines Discriminating Against Gay Employees … Because of Mormon Rules?

Is SkyWest Airlines Discriminating Against Gay Employees … Because of Mormon Rules?

Gilbert Caldwell and David Farrell are one of those rare species: a legally married couple under California state law. (Together they represent 0.0055556 percent of their kind.) Together for three years and domestic partners since 2002, they wed in June 2008, before Prop 8 shut things down a year ago this week. So how come Cadwell, 56, isn't able to offer Farrell, 72, free flights on the airline SkyWest, his employer that offers that very perk to hetero married couples?

Good question! And it's one this duo want answered, since state law requires legally married gay couples and domestic partnerships to be treated the same as hetero married couples in things like housing, insurance, and, yep, employment.

Working for SkyWest since 2004, Caldwell, a baggage agent based in Palm Springs, is only able to score discounted flights for Farrell, but not free ones like he'd be able to if Farrell were his bride. Which has the couple weighing a discrimination lawsuit against the airline if it doesn't change its policy.

SkyWest, meanwhile, maintains that Farrell is Cladwell's "travel companion." You know, like carry-on baggage or a small dog. The airline also argues that its regional partner, Delta, refuses to grant equal benefits to gay spouses. (Caldwell sent both airlines letters asking for clarification.) Though as the Cladwell's Lambda Legal attorney Tara Borelli notes (and the SF Chronicle paraphrases), "SkyWest's explanation is hard to believe because Delta has a policy of treating its own gay and lesbian employees equally."

Now, it's a complete coincidence that SkyWest, which flies to more than 150 cities in North America, is based in the Mormon state of Utah, right? And that SkyWest's chief executive, Jerry Atkin, is a LDS member himself? Not that we're insinuating all Mormons hate the gays, but a top businessman dubbed a "famous Mormon" would, seemingly, subscribe to the church's anti-gay marriage stance.

UPDATE: Queerty checked the database of Prop 8 donors, and what'd we find? A $5,000 contribution from a an attorney named J. Ralph Atkin from St. George, Utah, where SkyWest is based. (The donation to was recorded Oct. 28, 2008.) And just who is J. Ralph Atkin? Oh, just the founder of a little airline company called … SkyWest. He retired as CEO in 1991; the company was taken over by Ralph's nephew. His name is, oh, right, Jerry Atkin. Ah, it all makes sense now. (To be clear, Jerry's own name didn't turn up in the donors database.)


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