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Gables Officer In Benefits Battle Over Denied Bereavement Leave

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Lt. Rene Tastet says Coral Gables Police did not allow her to take bereavement leave because she is gay. (CBS4)

Lt. Rene Tastet says Coral Gables Police did not allow her to take bereavement leave because she is gay. (CBS4)

South Florida Crime

CORAL GABLES (CBS4) – A Coral Gables Police Lieutenant’s quest for equal rights has snowballed into a battle for domestic partnership benefits at City Hall.

Lt. Rene Tastet filed for bereavement leave in March of 2011. She wanted to attend the funeral of her life-partner’s father in North Carolina. But the city denied her request because she is gay.

“Emotionally it was very upsetting,” remembered Tastet. “I mean at the time where you know you’re grieving, I was very close to my partner’s father and at a time that you’re grieving, this is the last thing that you want to be concerned with or worry about.”

Tastet went to the funeral anyway but she had to use the personal leave that she had accrued during her tenure on the force.

“I felt like every other employee,” she said. “I’ve been with the department 20 years and I should be entitled to all the benefits everybody else has. But at the same time I also realize having 20 years on I had my personal leave to take. A younger officer who doesn’t have that type of time on wouldn’t have the leave and may not be able to attend.”

Shortly after that, SAVE Dade, a gay rights group, launched its fight against the city to get domestic partnership benefits for all city employees.

“We eventually got to the point where we started working with the city commission to try and pass an ordinance so that these types of things won’t happen again in the future,” said C.J.Ortuno, Executive Director of SAVE Dade. “Since then we’ve been getting a lot of stalling and run around from the city.”

Elsa Jaramillo-Velez, the city’s Human Resource Director said Coral Gables has a policy to negotiate with the unions first before implementing something like domestic partnership benefits.

“Collective bargaining has been taking place for over a year and a half now with just the fraternal order of police,” pointed out Ortuno. “They still have the teamsters and they still have the fire fighters unions to go through. Our concern is we don’t want four years to pass before these rights are authorized and at the same time you have 15 percent of the employees for the city of Coral Gables that are not protected by these rights and are not going to be protected by collective bargaining.”

Jaramillo-Velez said the city has already put domestic partnership benefits on the table for police negotiations, but nothing has been finalized.

Coral Gables is surrounded by municipalities that already have domestic partnership benefits. That includes:Miami, Dade County, Miami Beach, North Miami Beach and South Miami.

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