Equal rights granted to prison guard requesting leave - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Equal rights granted to prison guard requesting leave

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IOWA CITY (KWWL) -

The State of Iowa is making a policy change after a state prison guard requested unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act... and was denied.

Teresa Heck applied for time off work in April, to care for her wife and partner of 13 years -- Becky Andrews.  Andrews was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and was going through a series of life-threatening surgeries and treatments. 

Heck was shocked by the response she received when she asked for time off under the Family and Medical Leave Act.

"On the FMLA papers there was a little sticky note that said -- same-sex couples don't qualify. and I was like -- excuse me?" she recalled.

Heck filed the paperwork anyway, but was turned down.

"Here, per DAS -- your FMLA request doesn't meet the Defense of Marriage Act," she showed KWWL.

With the support of family and friends, Heck decided to fight the ruling. They encouraged her to contact her union and the American Civil Liberties Union.

"We weren't going to stand for it. They're in love. They're a couple. They are married. They're wives. There wasn't any way we were going to stand by and let it go by the wayside," said Robin McAllister, daughter of Becky Andrews.

The ACLU brought the case to the State Attorney Generals Office for review. Attorney General Eric Tabor said, his office looked at the federal law, and determined it left the definition of "spouse" up to individual states. Since, in Iowa, Heck and Andrews are legally married, the Department of Corrections needs to grant them the same benefits as a heterosexual couple.

"When I found out, I actually started crying. It's nice to know that there's support out there, no matter who you're married to, and that people are respectful of that," said Heck.

Heck, Andrews, and their family are not celebrating this victory -- yet. At this point, they've only had verbal confirmation that the FMLA right has been granted. They told KWWL -- they'll believe it when they see the paperwork for themselves.

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