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Posts Tagged ‘Georgia’

Supreme Court poised to drastically reverse LGBTQ equality

Tuesday, November 27th, 2018

There are now six different cases implicating LGBTQ rights sitting before the Supreme Court. While the conservative-majority Court has not yet agreed to hear any of them, a circuit split between two of the cases and the fact that President Trump’s transgender military ban is at the heart of another strongly suggest at least one of them will advance to oral arguments.

The cases span a variety of different issues, including employment, education, military service, and public discrimination. At the heart at most of them is a question about whether discrimination against LGBTQ people counts as discrimination on the basis of “sex.” If the Court rules against queer people in just one of them, it could set a precedent that hinders LGBTQ equality across all of the different issues.

Such a decision would be the largest blow to queer rights since the Court upheld sodomy laws 32 years ago.

Employment discrimination

Two of the cases before the Court address the question of whether it’s legal to fire someone for being gay. Two different federal appellate courts arrived at different conclusions, increasing the likelihood that the Supreme Court will hear the cases to resolve the dispute.

In Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia, a gay man argued that he was fired because of his sexual orientation. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit dismissed Gerald Lynn Bostock’s case over a 1979 precedent, even though several Supreme Court cases since then have undermined that ruling, including a case that recognized “sex stereotyping” as a form of sex discrimination as well as a case that recognized same-sex sexual harassment as sex discrimination. The Eleventh Circuit insisted that “sexual orientation” enjoys no recognition under Title VII’s employment protections on the basis of sex.

Meanwhile, this past February, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit arrived at the exact opposite conclusion in Zarda v. Altitude Express. In that case, the appellate court found that skydiving instructor Donald Zarda, now deceased, was illegally fired for being gay under Title VII. The Trump administration had argued otherwise.

With this split in how to interpret federal law, it seems highly likely that the Supreme Court will want to resolve the conflict. While there are several compelling arguments that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation inherently requires making determinations on the basis of sex, it’s not clear that there are five justices who will agree.

While they’re at it, the Court may also consider R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, a similar case about whether Title VII’s “sex” protections include discrimination on the basis of gender identity. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit agreed this past March that a Michigan funeral home violated the law when it fired employee Aimee Stephens for being transgender.

The Trump administration recently filed a brief in this case arguing that the Supreme Court should overturn the Sixth Circuit’s decision and rule that it’s legal to fire someone for being trans. But the administration also argued that the Court should consider Zarda or Bostock first — in other words, that it should resolve the question of whether sexual orientation is protected before it takes up gender identity.

In any of these cases, a ruling narrowly defining “sex” could set back employment rights for the entire LGBTQ community.

Trans military ban

On Friday, the Trump administration asked the Supreme Court to take the reins on the four different court battles over President Trump’s ban on transgender people serving in the military. The administration has lost in all of these different cases, including before two appellate courts, but it is now asking the Court to combine them all into the case Trump v. Karnoski.

The request is an unusual step, one that attempts to skip over the standard appeals process. LGBTQ groups chided the administration for being so desperate to discriminate that they’re willing to flout judicial norms and procedures. Nevertheless, given the Court’s willingness to cater to executive power in the Muslim ban cases, it might similarly be charitable to Trump’s claim that banning transgender people somehow improves military readiness, even though there’s no evidence to support that claim.

Another bakery

Just months after the Supreme Court granted a one-off victory to an anti-gay baker from Colorado, another bakery from Oregon is again asking the Court to grant it special permission to refuse service to same-sex couples. The details of Klein v. Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries are almost identical to the Masterpiece Cakeshop case.

As ThinkProgress previously explained, Aaron and Melissa Klein — owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa — are asking for even more from the Court than Jack Phillips did last year. They argue that business owners have a right to discriminate based on their religious beliefs — against any group, not just on the basis of sexual orientation. A ruling along those lines would not only greatly undermine LGBTQ protections, but nondiscrimination protections for all vulnerable groups.

Transgender students

While the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is not defending the Kleins as it did Phillips last year, the anti-LGBTQ hate group is still heavily involved in this year’s round of cases. In addition to defending the funeral home in the transgender employment case, ADF is also representing a group of families challenging a Pennsylvania school’s inclusive policies.

In Doe v. Boyertown Area School District, ADF contends that allowing transgender students to use restrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity somehow violates the privacy of other students. As such, they’re asking for a mandate that schools segregate trans students to single-use restrooms. Like in the employment cases with Title VII, ADF is also asking the Court to rule that Title IX’s sex protections don’t extend to transgender students.

If the Supreme Court were to take all of these cases and the conservative majority were to prevail in them all, 2019 could look radically different for LGBTQ people. Nationwide, it’d become legal to fire them for who they are, to discriminate against them in schools, and to discriminate against them in public spaces — and several thousand transgender service members would lose their jobs.

For now, the Court is delaying making any decisions.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on November 27, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Zack Ford is the LGBTQ Editor at ThinkProgress.org, where he has covered issues related to marriage equality, transgender rights, education, and “religious freedom,” in additional to daily political news.

Why Hundreds of Georgia Bus Drivers Just Staged a Massive Sickout

Friday, April 27th, 2018

Robbie Brown loved her students. For 18 years, she drove them in her yellow bus to and from schools in DeKalb County, Georgia. And then, last Friday, two police officers showed up at Brown’s house with a letter. She’d been fired.

Brown is one of at least seven drivers sacked after staging a “sickout” to demand better pay and benefits. Last Thursday, nearly 400 school bus drivers and monitors in DeKalb County called in sick, aiming to pressure school district officials to boost driver pay, improve retirement packages and reclassify drivers from part-time to full-time employees. The drivers have 50 demands in all. Some paint a picture of a bus system in disrepair: Drivers say they need restrooms at parking lots, working intercom systems, air conditioning on buses. Other demands, like “fair treatment for bus drivers,” tell a story of workers who are tired of being pushed around.

While district officials say they fired “ringleaders,” drivers say plans for the sickout emerged informally, and spread by word of mouth. Drivers in DeKalb, which covers part of Atlanta, are not unionized, and as public employees in Georgia, they’re barred from collective bargaining and striking. But Brown, who’s 51, felt like she had to speak out.

“My mortgage is $1,000 a month, and there’s no way, even if I retire in 20 or 30 years, that I can afford to keep my home,” she told Scalawag Magazine. Brown’s retirement plan would net her only about $400 a month after she stopped working, she says. Many of her colleagues work well into their 70s just to keep the lights on.

“Once we get old enough to retire, we can’t pay the bills.”

The sickout, which continued through Monday, comes after months of meetings in which drivers voiced concerns over benefits and pay to district officials. And it follows waves of wildcat strikes by public school teachers across the South and West who are demanding better treatment and pay. It’s too early to tell what effect the DeKalb sickout will have, but supporters hope it will add fuel to a resurgent labor movement in public education. Closer to home, Brown hopes the action will pressure district officials to meet drivers’ demands, and perhaps provoke teachers, custodians and other workers in Georgia schools to fight for better pay, benefits and working conditions.

“They need to stand up,” Brown said. “If you stand together, if you make a chain link with your hands and hold on, it can be done.”

While a number of DeKalb teachers support the sickout, teachers in Georgia might be reluctant to jump on a picket line, says Verdalia Turner, President of the Georgia Federation of Teachers, a chapter of the American Federation of Teachers.

“We don’t even have the word strike in our vocabulary here because there is no reason for our membership to strike,” Turner said. “Our plan is to continue to organize as issues come about … I hope all workers can get organized with an organization that they control and can run democratically.”

In DeKalb County, employment incentives discourage teachers from organizing, according to a teacher in the district. She spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing concerns about retaliation. Some teachers are complacent, she said. And because enough teachers want to leave the classroom for the administrative ranks, where they can expect much higher salaries, it’s difficult to whip up support for collective protest, the teacher, who is a member of the Georgia Association of Educators, explained.

“The way the system has been created, it incentivizes keeping your head down and following the rules,” she said, adding that “there’s no indication of a walkout, a sickout, or a protest.”

Yet strikes in West Virginia and Oklahoma have shown that teachers in states hostile to organized labor, and battered by funding cuts, can win material gains through collective protest. It’s worth remembering that the teacher strikes began in only a handful of counties in southern West Virginia, weeks before there was public chatter about a state-wide work stoppage. Even though the driver sickout only affected one Georgia county, 42 percent of DeKalb’s drivers refused to work last Thursday. If drivers win some of the improvements they’re asking for, it could be an early sign that drivers, custodians and other non-teacher staff can use direct action to successfully push for better labor conditions in the right-to-work south.

It’ll be a tough fight, though. While a DeKalb spokesperson told Scalawag that district officials have been developing a timeline for addressing driver concerns, the DeKalb County Superintendent condemned the sickout last week, saying the action put students in danger. “This is not acceptable and it will not be tolerated,” Superintendent Stephen Green told reporters at a press conference last Thursday, saying they will now require doctors’ notes from drivers who call in sick. “Your actions will have consequences and there will be repercussions for putting our children in harm’s way.”

For Brown, who has three children of her own, the suggestion that drivers would intentionally endanger their students is “totally ridiculous.” “I love my kids, I know all my kids’ names,” she said. She’s sad to think she might not see them again. “That’s the biggest regret I have — that I didn’t have the chance to say goodbye to them.”

Drivers have been raising concerns about pay and conditions for over two years. In recent months, a committee of drivers and bus monitors met regularly with district higher-ups, and drivers flooded recent DeKalb County Board of Education meetings with questions and complaints. On April 17, two days before the sickout, drivers met with Superintendent Green to discuss their demands. When drivers didn’t get concessions they’d asked for, they informed district officials about a planned sickout, giving them time to alert parents about possible delays. The district’s decision to subsequently fire alleged “ringleaders” prompted drivers to seek assistance from outside organizations, including Atlanta’s General Defense Committee, which is affiliated with the Industrial Workers of the World, a labor union.

On Thursday, fired drivers held a press conference calling on Superintendent Green to rehire Brown and her colleagues. They were joined by still-employed drivers, parents of DeKalb students, and members of supportive organizations.

Melanie Douglas, a fired driver, censured Superintendent Green for behaving contrary to what DeKalb schools teach students about the importance of free speech. “The message is if you speak up about injustice, if you use your First Amendment rights, then we will strike you down,” she said.

A district spokesperson told Scalawag Superintendent Green has no plans to rehire fired drivers, but did meet with members of the Driver and Monitor and Advisory Committee on Thursday. “The district has been open, is open, and will continue to be open to sitting down and thinking about issues and how to solve them,” the spokesperson added.

But during the press conference, Douglas said the superintendent was trying to “sow division between the fired and still-employed drivers.” Another fired driver, Marion Payne, said he wasn’t confident the Driver and Monitor and Advisory Committee would advocate for rehiring drivers. “They’re afraid to death. They might not say anything,” he said.

A current driver, who asked to remain anonymous, expressed that retaliation has not entirely chilled their efforts. He said drivers may yet resolve to take further action if their demands are not met.

Drivers are also consulting with lawyers about possibly contesting the terminations in court, according to Sara Khaled, a community organizer working with the drivers. “But we’re hoping we can resolve this outside the court to get the drivers hired again and get some of their original demands met,” they added.

Whatever comes of it, the sickout is history-making. It’s the first work stoppage by school bus drivers in Atlanta since 1980, when drivers shut down schools in Fulton County. And it comes on the heels of several successful organizing efforts by bus drivers elsewhere. In February, Seattle school bus drivers staged a week-long strike, forcing management to expand benefit packages and provide comprehensive healthcare coverage. Also in February, city transit workers in Atlanta went on strike to protest unfair labor practices, ultimately prompting their employer to agree to improvements in their contract. (Crucially, drivers in DeKalb insist that their action was not a strike.)

Meanwhile, Brown’s future remains uncertain. “I am applying for jobs,” she said, a little wistfully. “My license is a Class A, and I’m thinking of driving trucks, even though I love my kids and I loved my eighteen years.”

This article was published at In These Times on April 27, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Casey Williams is a writer based in Durham, NC. He covers issues from environmental justice to southern culture, and has published work in The New York Times, The Nation, HuffPost, and other local and national outlets.

What Will Discrimination Cost Georgia?

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2016

Terrance Heath

Fifty-two years after Lester Maddox famously chased African-Americans out of his restaurant with an ax handle, the phrase “We don’t serve your kind here” may be heard once again in Georgia.

On Wednesday, the Republican-controlled Georgia General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a law that says the state may not “substantial burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a law, rule, regulation, ordinance or resolution of general applicability.” Essentially, the law says that businesses may discriminate against LGBT people on the basis of religious beliefs, and the state can’t do anything about it — even it violates local ordinances protecting LGBT people from discrimination.

Last spring, when conservatives legislators in Indiana and Arkansas pushed through “religious freedom” laws designed to legalize anti-LGBT discrimination, Georgia lawmakers were working on their own bill. It didn’t pass, due to strong opposition from businesses in the state.

But Georgia Republican lawmakers didn’t learn anything from their defeat, or the backlash against Indiana and Arkansas last year. Georgia’s zombie “religious freedom” bill was defeated last year, but it didn’t die. It was resurrected in the Senate in January, and passed only after it was forced through while Democrats were in the bathroom, along with another bill that would allow public officials to refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, and might even allow public employees to refuse to recognize a same-sex marriage on a death certificate.

The bill launched a “civil war” in the state GOP. Moderate Republicans (who somehow still exist in Georgia) wanted little to do with it, and tried to add provisions to make it less awful. Republican Rep. Mike Jacobs proposed an amendment clarifying that the bill must not be interpreted as legalizing discrimination, but conservatives declared that the amendment would defeat the purpose of the bill, and tabled it when the amendment narrowly passed.

Even Georgia’s Republican governor Nathan Deal spoke out against the bill. Deal said that Jesus’ outreach to the outcasts of his time ran counter to the standards of the “religious freedom” bill saying, “If you were to apply those standards to the teaching of Jesus, I don’t think they fit.” Deal invoked the New Testament Gospel of John to emphasize, “that we have a belief in forgiveness and that we do not have to discriminate unduly against anyone on the basis of our own religious beliefs.”

In response, Georgia’s conservative lawmakers made the bill worse, adding language that could undermine local ordinances protecting LGBT people from discrimination and “permit hospitals to refuse to provide medically necessary care, or allow a taxpayer-funded service provider to discriminate by denying a job because of the applicant’s religion, sexual orientation, or gender identity.” Sen. Emanuel Jones even got Republican Sen. Greg Kirg to admit that the GOP’s “religious freedom” law would also protect the Ku Klux Klan.

Businesses backlash was strong and swift. The Decatur-based telecom company 373K announced via Twitter that it would be leaving the state.

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“I’m gay, our CFO is gay, we have people from every walk of life working here” co-founder Kevin Williams said. “I’ve got Muslims, Buddhists, atheists here. We’ve got great Christians working for us. They’ve never thought of not serving anyone – that’s not the message of Christ.” 373K Client Relations Manager Brian Greene said the company no longer feels comfortable paying taxes in the state.

Salesforce, one of the nation’s largest tech marketing firms has threatened to pull its 15,000-person convention out of Georgia — along with the revenue it brings into the state — and proceed with moving business out of the state if the governor signs the bill, which “creates an environment of discrimination and makes the state of Georgia seem unwelcoming to same-sex couples and the LGBTQ community.”

“If HB 757 is not vetoed and instead becomes law, Salesforce will have to reduce investments in Georgia, including moving the Salesforce Connections conference to a state that provides a more welcoming environment for the LGBTQ community,” the company said in a statement. The statement is consistent with Salesforce’s actions last year when the company cancelled “all programs that require our customers/employees to travel to Indiana to face discrimination.”

The NFL issued statement suggesting that the bill could ruin the state’s chances of hosting a Super Bowl. The Atlanta Falcon’s new stadium is set to open next year, and the city had hoped to host a Super Bowl in either 2019 or 2020.

A group of 480 businesses called Georgia Prospers have come out against the bill. The group includes Google, Marriott, Delta, Home Depot, Coca-Cola as well as many small businesses.

Already, events in Georgia are shaping up to resemble last years’ backlash against Indiana.Indiana’s law cost the state $40 million in cancelled deals and cancelled contracts. Discrimination could cost Georgia a lot more, if the state’s Republican lawmakers have their way.

This blog originally appeared in ourfuture.org on March 21, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Terrance Heath is the Online Producer at Campaign for America’s Future. He has consulted on blogging and social media consultant for a number of organizations and agencies. He is a prominent activist on LGBT and HIV/AIDS issues.
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