Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘LGBT workers’

LGBT History Month Pathway to Progress: The Founding of Pride At Work

Wednesday, October 30th, 2019

History has long been portrayed as a series of “great men” taking great action to shape the world we live in. In recent decades, however, social historians have focused more on looking at history “from the bottom up,” studying the vital role that working people played in our heritage. Working people built, and continue to build, the United States. In our series, Pathway to Progress, we’ll take a look at various people, places and events where working people played a key role in the progress our country has made, including those who are making history right now. In honor of LGBT History Month, we will take a look at the founding of Pride At Work (P@W).

Prior to 1969, the labor movement mostly ignored issues that affected LGBTQ working people. The events at Stonewall Inn and the rebellion that followed woke up many in the ranks of labor to the need to step up efforts to include all workers, including our LGBTQ siblings. After Stonewall, unions began to recognize that discrimination based on sexual orientation was another assault on working people, one that victimized union members and weakened efforts at solidarity among working families.

As the 1970s began, the AFT was the first union to pass a resolution against discrimination based on sexual orientation. In 1974, the Teamsters worked with the LGBTQ community members in San Francisco on a boycott against the anti-union Coors Brewing Co. Over the next few decades, support for LGBTQ rights in the labor movement continued to grow. The AFL-CIO passed a resolution that called for legislation to ban workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation. More and more unions started creating LGBTQ caucuses and opened up space for LGBTQ workers to be activists and open about their sexual orientation.

While some unions took the lead, the labor movement was largely silent on issues related to LGBTQ rights and issues. This lead LGBTQ union activists to come together to form Pride At Work. The activists met in New York in 1994, the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion. Earlier efforts at organizing had led to groups such as the Lesbian and Gay Labor Alliance (in the San Francisco Bay Area), the Lesbian and Gay Labor Network (New York) and the Gay and Lesbian Labor Activists Network (New England). Efforts such of these would eventually be consolidated into a larger LGBTQ workers organization, Pride At Work. In 1997, the organization was officially recognized by AFL-CIO as a constituency group.

Among Pride At Work’s first campaigns were efforts to pressure Chrysler to ban anti-LGBTQ discrimination. Chrysler made the requested changes in 1999 and Ford and General Motors soon followed. Domestic partner benefits were gained a year later. Later, in 2005, P@W successfully convinced the AFL-CIO to support marriage equality. In 2012, the AFL-CIO supported the legal case that led to the national legal recognition of same-sex marriage.

Today, Pride At Work continues to educate the labor movement and wider culture about the importance of unions for LGBTQ workers and the value those workers provide employers. Pride@Work also supports electoral candidates that support LGBTQ workers and helps LGBTQ working people run for political office.

This blog was originally published by the AFL-CIO on October 29, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist. Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.

The Supreme Court Case Testing the Limits of Gorsuch’s Textualism

Wednesday, October 16th, 2019

Image result for richard primusIn three cases argued last week—Bostock v. Clayton CountyAltitude Express v. Zarda, and Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC—the Supreme Court confronted this question: Does Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination “because of [an] individual’s … sex” forbid discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity?

Several lower courts and most academic commentators have said that the answer is yes. The logic is pretty simple. If a male employee is fired because he has sexual relationships with men, but female employees in the same workplace can have sexual relationships with men without getting fired, then the male employee was fired “because of [his] sex,” inasmuch as he would not have been fired had his sex been different. The same is true of a woman assigned female at birth who is fired because she lives as a man. If you’re tempted by the thought that firing a person for having a same-sex partner doesn’t discriminate on the basis of sex because the employer would fire people of any sex who have same-sex partners, ask yourself whether a law prohibiting people of any race to marry outside their racial groups, or to ride in a railroad car designated for people of a different race, discriminates on the basis of race. (It does.)

To be sure, nobody thinks that Congress in 1964 intended to ban workplace discrimination against LGBTQ persons when it prohibited discrimination “because of … sex.” But the words of the law turn out to do so, regardless of what Congress had in mind. The question before the Supreme Court, therefore, is what prevails when the text of a statute does something that the legislature that passed the statute did not have in mind—and would not have endorsed.

The justice to whom that question is posed most sharply, and who may well cast the deciding vote in these cases, is Justice Neil Gorsuch. Gorsuch may find himself pulled in different directions by two of his strong jurisprudential commitments. On one hand, he generally thinks that courts should not be engines of social change, including by expanding the reach of antidiscrimination laws. Those sorts of changes, he believes, should come from legislatures. But on the other hand, Gorsuch is a proud and articulate textualist. In his oft-repeated view, a court applying a law passed by a legislature should be governed by what the words of the statute actually say, regardless of whether the court thinks the words of the statute embody good public policy. Nor should courts let the meaning of statutory text be overcome by considerations about the general purposes of the law or what members of the legislature said or thought during the lawmaking process. What matters is the text of the statute. And the text that Congress adopted, read literally, covers LGBTQ scenarios.

To be sure, all nine justices would probably describe themselves as textualists of one sort of another in cases of statutory interpretation. None of them thinks that courts can ignore what statutes say. But most are more open to considering other factors as well, including the legislature’s purpose. (The leading alternatives to textualist approaches to statutory interpretation are usually called “purposivist,” because they advocate taking into account what Congress meant to accomplish, not just what the law literally says.) Gorsuch’s textualism is the most uncompromising, and being a principled textualist is a big part—perhaps the biggest part—of Gorsuch’s public identity as a jurist.

So if Gorsuch were to write that employers are able to discriminate on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation—whether because of a concern about precipitating social change or otherwise—critics will surely charge that his textualism is more rhetorical than real. They will say that he pretends to have a consistent interpretive theory, but he’s willing to jettison that theory when he doesn’t like the result it would lead to. That criticism might sting. But in the end, the charge of playing fast and loose with his principles is not the most significant problem Gorsuch would have to face if he ruled for the employers. He would also risk exposing one of the key premises of textualism as flawed.

At oral argument, Gorsuch recognized the strength of the textualist argument in favor of the LGBTQ plaintiffs. But Gorsuch also suggested that this point might not decide the case, because of a competing concern about the appropriate role of courts within the legal system. To decide that existing federal law prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity, Gorsuch mused, might cause significant social disruption. Perhaps, he said, American society is not ready for, or does not want, a legal rule protecting LGBTQ persons against workplace discrimination. And like most conservative-leaning federal judges—indeed, like most federal judges regardless of politics—Gorsuch takes the view that major social change should not come from court rulings but rather from democratically elected legislatures. Indeed, a big part of the point of textualism for someone like Gorsuch is that it prevents courts from substituting their own policy intuitions for those of legislatures.

How much social disruption would actually result from a ruling for the plaintiffs is of course a matter of guesswork: Counsel for the plaintiffs argued that it might not be so disruptive. But to a strict textualist, the degree of potential social disruption shouldn’t matter. If courts shouldn’t be in the business of making judgments about social policy, and instead should just apply statutes as written, then societal outcomes should be no reason to hesitate to do what the text of the statute says. It might feel like a ruling for the plaintiffs would constitute judge-ordered social change, but from a textualist viewpoint, ruling for the plaintiffs wouldn’t expand antidiscrimination law. It would just enforce the law that already exists.

That’s not to say that social disruption—were it to occur—wouldn’t be a problem. But a key tenet of statutory textualism is the idea that if statutes are problematic, the solution is not for courts to tinker with them. Courts must enforce laws as they are, warts and all, and leave any needed repair work to Congress. In the present case, that means that if Congress doesn’t think that Title VII should prevent discrimination against LGBTQ persons, Congress could add clarifying language to the statute. A textualist with faith in this process should have no problem enforcing the statute as written and leaving the rest up to Congress.

Like most justices, though, Gorsuch is a sophisticated observer of congressional behavior. He knows that in reality the legislative process is full of veto opportunities even when it isn’t completely gridlocked. Getting anything through Congress is difficult, and imagining that Congress will respond to every statutory interpretation it doesn’t like by passing appropriate statutory amendments is more than a little naïve. In this case, Gorsuch knows that Congress is unlikely to respond to a literal construction of Title VII by affirmatively authorizing discrimination against LGBTQ persons. There probably isn’t a sufficient majority in Congress today to pass legislation specifically prohibiting discrimination against LGBTQ persons, but there probably isn’t a sufficient majority for passing a law specifically denying that protection, either. So whichever way the Supreme Court decides is likely to be how the law remains for some period of time.

That’s why the possibility of social disruption concerns Gorsuch: If he believed a legislative fix were a realistic possibility, he could just follow the text of the statute and let Congress do whatever cleanup work it thought was needed. But Gorsuch is entirely correct to doubt that any legislative fix would be forthcoming.

If Gorsuch writes an opinion in this case that suggests (even implicitly) that he does not trust the possibility of a legislative fix, he will have done more than give his critics grounds to say that he abandoned his textualist principles when he didn’t like the results. He will also be suggesting that, when push comes to shove, he knows that one of the premises of hard-core statutory textualism—that fixing statutes is the job of the legislature—is not in practice workable. That is not a signal that a Supreme Court justice who aspires to be his generation’s leading hard-edged textualist ought to want to send. The simplest way to avoid sending that signal, of course, is to apply the statute literally—that is, to rule that Title VII covers discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. That would look like evidence that Gorsuch is seriously committed to his textualist approach, regardless of his views about the policy wisdom to which it leads in any given case.

This article was originally published at Politico on October 15, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Richard Primus is the Theodore J. St. Antoine Professor of Law at the University of Michigan Law School and a former clerk for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Follow him on Twitter @Richard_Primus.

The Corporate Media Failed to Warn Us About the Trump Admin’s Attack on LGBTQ Workers

Wednesday, October 9th, 2019

Image result for Andy Lee Roth“Sex,” Katherine Franke, a law professor at Columbia University, told the New York Times, “is a confounding term in our culture, in our language and certainly in the law.” As the Supreme Court opens a new session, its justices are set to tackle the conundrum of defining “sex.” At issue is whether Title VII of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bars employment discrimination “because of sex,” applies to gay, lesbian, and transgender employees.

There are many reasons why LGBTQ Americans deserve federal protection against employment and workplace discrimination. Simplest and most glaring: In a majority of states, it is perfectly legal for an employer to refuse to hire someone, or to fire them, simply because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In its preview of Bostock v. Clayton CountyAltitude Express Inc. v. Zarda, and Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOCSCOTUSBlog described the trio of cases as “some of the biggest” of the Court’s forthcoming term. The Court’s decisions will be consequential for how secure all workers—whether straight or queer; transgender, cisgender, or nonbinary—are in their jobs, because the cases will also test a 30-year-old decision that established gender stereotyping as a form of sex discrimination.

It is distressing that corporate news media have not deemed employment protections for LGBTQ workers to be newsworthy until the Supreme Court decided to hear these cases, but it is no surprise to us. The inadequate news coverage fits a pattern we found in a study of several hundred news reports on LGBTQ issues published by four major newspapers between January 2016 and November 2018. The study, “Stonewalled: Establishment Media’s Silence on the Trump Administration’s Crusade against LGBTQ People,” appears in Censored 2020: Through the Looking Glass (Seven Stories Press, 2019).

Our study concluded that, during that period, corporate news media consistently muted, marginalized or ignored the steady rollback of LGTBQ protections and rights under the Trump administration. Another recent study, focused on television news coverage, reached similar conclusions: Since Trump became president, news coverage of LGBTQ issues has “all but disappeared.”

From the 2016 presidential campaign through the midterm elections of 2018, we found that corporate news coverage of LGBTQ issues focused on two main issues: the president’s proposal to ban transgender people from military service and so-called “bathroom bills.” Together these two topics accounted for more than forty percent of all LGBTQ-focused news articles in the New York TimesWashington PostLos Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal. By contrast, during the same time period, the independent news outlets in our study covered a much wider range of issues facing LGBTQ Americans, devoting less than 10% of their coverage to the proposed transgender military ban and “bathroom bills.”

Based on the findings from our study, we forecast three trends in news coverage of the Supreme Court’s hearing of the Title VII anti-discrimination cases. The first pattern we expect to hold is a positive, encouraging one; the remainder are causes for concern.

News coverage will center LGBTQ voices.

LGBTQ people—including spokespersons for leading LGBTQ rights organizations, such as Human Rights Campaign, Lambda Legal and the National Center for Transgender Equality—will achieve what sociologist William Gamson calls “media standing.” Standing, in Gamson’s use of the term, goes beyond being covered or mentioned in the news; the figures that journalists quote directly are positioned as agents whose insights and actions matter.

In our study, we found that at least 7.5% of quoted sources identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual. Although the actual numbers of LGBTQ people in the United States are difficult to determine, that figure is higher than recent estimates of the nation’s adult population indicate, suggesting that journalists are making good faith efforts to represent “the diversity of opinion and experience within the LGBTQ community,” as recommended by Sarah Kate Ellis in her introduction to the GLAAD Media Reference Guide.

This point about the inclusion of LGBTQ voices may seem obvious, even trivial, but a long history of systemic prejudice against LGBTQ people by the nation’s most prominent news outlets makes the achievement of media standing by LGBTQ people noteworthy. As recently as 1996, for example, Edward Alwood, author of Straight News, concluded that U.S. news media “rarely focus” on the leaders of gay and lesbian rights organizations.

As coverage of the LGBTQ cases argued before the Supreme Court will show, in 2019 news organizations have improved in this regard.

Corporate news will provide limited historical context for understanding these cases.

News stories are geared toward current events and journalists often fail to provide the long-term historical view necessary to fully understand those events.

If news coverage frames the BostockAltitude Express and Harris Funeral Homes cases in terms of the history of civil liberties in the United States, this will be due to the advocacy of civil liberties organizations and their allies.

In October 2018, for example, the Trump administration proposed to define gender as a biological fact, determined at birth. In our data, we found that spokespeople for civil liberties groups, such as the American Civil Liberties Union, articulated their opposition by linking protections of and inclusion for LGBTQ people to the history of the civil rights movement, including the racial integration of the military by President Truman in 1948, and the desegregation of schools, as mandated by Brown v. Board of Education in 1954.

Had the newspaper articles in our study not included the voices of civil liberties advocates, readers would have had no historical context with which to make sense of the Trump administration’s audacious proposal.

To what extent will news coverage of the Supreme Court cases on employment discrimination be enhanced by historical perspective? Our study suggests that the answer to this question depends on whether that coverage features the voices of civil liberties organizations.

Corporate news coverage will whitewash anti-LGBTQ advocates’ most virulent positions.

In our study, establishment newspapers frequently quoted Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, as a newsworthy opponent of state laws and ordinances that would prohibit LGBTQ discrimination.

Quotations published by the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, for example, portrayed Perkins as a fair partisan, engaged in legitimate debate, but failed to inform readers of Perkins’ more virulent anti-LGBTQ statements or that, in 2010, the Southern Poverty Law Center listed the Family Research Council as an anti-gay hate group.

Similarly, Media Matters has documented how establishment media outlets have highlighted Mike Pence’s civility with gay men in public and professional meetings while downplaying his long record of anti-LGBTQ positions, first in Congress, then as Governor of Indiana, and now as Vice President.

Numerous studies show that hate crimes against LGBTQ people—including violence that is often deadly—is on the rise, while acceptance of LGBTQ people in everyday situations is eroding. But corporate news coverage of the trio of Supreme Court cases is likely to downplay these realities, in part by depicting the opponents of employment protections for LGBTQ Americans as reasonable and principled figures—even when they have taken virulent homophobic or transphobic positions in the past. Call it the Tony Perkins Syndrome.

At its best, journalism provides insights into complex issues, puts news into context, and highlights abuses of authority. We would be happy for establishment news outlets to report on the Supreme Court’s LGBTQ cases in ways that prove our critical predictions wrong. But, based on our study of recent news coverage, we expect otherwise.

The Supreme Court is not likely to rule on the trio of LGBTQ employment cases until June 2020. We do not have to wait until then to judge the establishment media’s coverage of crucial LGBTQ issues, or to hold news organizations accountable when they fail to provide the kind of coverage we need to act as informed members of our communities.

This article was originally published at InTheseTimes on October 8, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Andy Lee Roth is associate director of Project Censored, a media watchdog organization established in 1976. His research, including the study described in this article, focuses on the power of news to shape public opinion. He is the coeditor of in Censored 2020: Through the Looking Glass (Seven Stories Press, 2019) and nine previous Censored yearbooks.About the Author: April Anderson is the lead author of “Stonewalled: Establishment Media’s Silence on the Trump Administration’s Crusade against LGBTQ People,” which appears in Censored 2020. A member and advocate of the LGBTQI+ community, they work as a Research and Instruction Librarian at Macalester College.

Americans are underestimating discrimination against LGBTQ people

Tuesday, June 25th, 2019

Many Americans think there has been a lot of progress on LGBTQ rights. But there is a long way to go.

An overwhelming majority of Americans think there has been progress in the LGBTQ rights movement, according to recent polls. But they are also underestimating the amount of discrimination LGBTQ people face.

Eighty-four percent of Americans think there has been a great deal or some progress in the LGBTQ rights movement, compared to only 14% who say there has not been much or none at all, found a new CBS News poll.

When it comes to discrimination against lesbians and gay men, 44% said there is a lot of discrimination, but 31% said there was only some and 22% said there was only a little or none. People were more likely to believe transgender people face a lot of discrimination if they know a transgender person. Fifty-six percent believed there is a lot of discrimination against transgender people, but 66% of those who know transgender people believe the same. The poll did not ask about discrimination against bisexual people.

Among those who were asked what changed their mind about marriage equality, 12% said they knew someone who is gay or lesbian, 22% said they knew more about the issue, and 26% said people should be able to make their own choices.

Perhaps so many Americans think there has been major progress on LGBTQ rights because a large share don’t understand that there aren’t many federal protections for LGBTQ people. Despite the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized marriage equality across the country, LGBTQ people don’t have explicit national nondiscrimination protections in the workplace, housing, public accommodations, and credit.

A Reuters poll released earlier this month found that 45% of all Americans believe that federal law currently protects queer people from discrimination. Only one in three Americans knew that transgender people were not protected from discrimination in federal law. Forty-three percent of Americans said LGBTQ people were treated “about the same” as cis and straight people when it comes to health care access, and just 17% said LGBTQ were treated worse. Others said they did not know the extent to which LGBTQ people were treated differently.

LGBTQ folks have successfully argued that they’re covered by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in the past. But there is no national law with explicit nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has rolled back Obama-era rules and guidance protecting LGBTQ people and banned transgender people from the military.

On the state level, protections are uneven. Currently, only 21 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws explicitly prohibiting discrimination and gender identity in employment and housing and 20 states and D.C. prohibit discrimination in public accommodations. Fourteen states have nondiscrimination laws covering credit discrimination.

The Equality Act would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to ban discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation in housing, employment, education, federal programs, jury service, public accommodations, and credit and lending. The legislation would also update the law to include protections against discrimination in public spaces and services like retail stores, transportation services, banks, and legal services. It passed the House in May. Nearly all House Republicans, or 173 members, voted against it. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) does not plan to bring the bill to the floor, and a senior Trump administration official has said that President Donald Trump won’t support the Equality Act.

Although there have been signs of progress in LGBTQ acceptance in the long term, a 2019 national GLAAD survey found a decline in overall comfort and acceptance of LGBTQ people among people ages 18 to 34 in 2018. GLAAD said there has been a steady decline in comfort in personal situations among this age group since 2016. Thirty-six percent of cis and straight people said they were uncomfortable learning a family member is in the LGBTQ community, and a third said they would be uncomfortable with a child being placed with an instructor in the community in 2018, compared to 24% and 25% in 2016, respectively.

In addition to legal barriers and personal discomfort with LGBTQ people in family and education environments, LGBTQ people still face threats of violence. At least 10 trans black women have been murdered in 2019. In 2018, the FBI reported a 17% year-over-year rise in federal hate crimes in the United States, and threats of violence and assault against queer people continue.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on June 24, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Casey Quinlan covers policy issues related to gender and sexuality. Their work has also been published in The Establishment, Bustle, Glamour, The Guardian, Teen Vogue, The Atlantic, and In These Times. They studied economic reporting, political reporting, and investigative journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, where they graduated with an M.A. in business journalism.

Intertwined: The Labor Movement and LGBT Rights

Monday, June 25th, 2018

Through all the celebration of LGBTQ Pride this month, there’s been a valuable opportunity to reflect on the hard-fought victories, brutal setbacks, and tenacious struggles that have ultimately delivered so much for so many. And just as importantly, there has been time to think about what lies ahead in that fight for justice.

By the time I was elected president of the United Mine Workers of America in 1982, the fight for LGBTQ rights was already in full swing. Thirteen years after the Stonewall riots, activists were marching, shouting and organizing for the basic dignities they had been denied for so long. It was a groundbreaking movement for equal treatment in all the fundamental facets of life, from employment and housing to health care and personal safety.

These pioneers knew that change wasn’t simply going to be handed down from the halls of power or granted as an act of corporate benevolence. Change would only come when a diverse and united front stood together to demand it. In the face of unrepentant bigotry and blind loyalty to the status quo, grassroots organizing led the way forward.

It’s a basic principle that has always been at the heart of the labor movement. Progress, steadily gained, is fueled by the power of a mobilized community. Every victory in the fight against oppression has ultimately been achieved by that spirit of solidarity.

That’s certainly been true in the ongoing battle for justice on the job. From my first day in the coal mines of southwestern Pennsylvania, I knew that the only way to secure a brighter future was to lock arms and stand together. And that meant leaving no one behind.

That’s why we at the UMWA were so proud to help secure some of the earliest protections for same-sex couples in our members’ contracts, ensuring that all of our comrades had equal access to key benefits. We couldn’t afford to wait until it was popular.

And so unions offered a new refuge for gay workers. A place where full equality wasn’t just a mission, but an obligation.

Over the succeeding decades, LGBTQ Americans have won a flurry of progress. Public opinion shifted in favor of equality. Prominent figures, from sports to entertainment to politics, came out of the closet. Institutional disdain for the community gave way to unbending advocacy of justice. Trans rights were lifted up, the armed forces’ closet door was knocked down, and the constitutional right to marriage was unequivocally affirmed.

Perhaps no movement for social change has achieved so much so quickly. But even in a sea of rainbow flags—and even with marriage equality secured—there still remains too much of the discrimination endured by early protesters.

Today, you are free to marry who you love. But in most states, you can still be fired because of who you are. Unless, of course, you have the protection of a union contract.

The truth is that many of the fights left to be won are based on economic rights. They’re rooted in workers’ relationships with employers. The labor movement knows a thing or two about that.

The AFL-CIO’s constituency group Pride at Work continues to lead the way in advocating for the dignity of LGBTQ workers. The rights codified in so many union contracts over the years—from couples’ benefits to nondiscrimination to trans health care—have made headway that simply couldn’t have been gained otherwise.

For many LGBTQ Americans, a union card is their only form of employment protection. But more importantly, it signifies membership in a large and growing family ready to fight when it matters most.

That’s what the labor movement is all about. And it’s how the progress of tomorrow will be won.

So, here’s my ask for this Pride Month: Join a union. Check out Pride at Work and tackle the workplace challenges facing LGBTQ Americans the way this movement always has: Organize, organize, organize.

This blog was originally published at AFLCIO.org on June 26, 2018. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Richard L. Trumka is president of the 12.5-million-member AFL-CIO. An outspoken advocate for social and economic justice, Trumka is the nation’s clearest voice on the critical need to ensure that all workers have a good job and the power to determine their wages and working conditions. He heads the labor movement’s efforts to create an economy based on broadly shared prosperity and to hold elected officials and employers accountable to working families.

Federal appeals court holds workers can’t be fired for being gay

Wednesday, April 5th, 2017

With a lopsided majority joined by a bipartisan coalition of judges, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held on Tuesday that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation violates federal civil rights law, at least in the context of the workplace.

The court telegraphed in an order last October that Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College was likely to be a victory for victims of discrimination in the workplace. The final vote in the case, however, is a bit more surprising.

Eight of the Seventh Circuit’s judges joined Tuesday’s opinion, including Republican appointees Richard Posner, Joel Flaum, Frank Easterbrook, Ilana Rovner, and Kenneth Ripple. Only three judges dissented.

The case involves Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of an employee’s “sex.” Though Title VII contains no explicit statement that discrimination on the basis of “sexual orientation” is prohibited, two crucial Supreme Court precedents inform Chief Judge Diane Wood’s majority opinion in Hively.

The first is Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, which established that Title VII’s ban on sex discrimination is violated when an employee faces discrimination due to gender stereotyping. Thus, in that case, a female accountant could allege illegal discrimination if she was denied a partnership because her superiors deemed her too masculine. (One partner told her to take “a course at charm school.” Another deemed her too “macho.”)

One of the the core insights of Chief Judge Wood’s decision in Hively is that, because she is a lesbian, “Hively represents the ultimate case of failure to conform to the female stereotype.” Stereotypical women enter into romantic and sexual partnerships with men. Hively defies this stereotype by engaging in such relationships with women. So presuming that she must prefer relations with men is itself a form of gender stereotyping forbidden by Hopkins.

Wood’s opinion also offers several other reasons why sexual orientation discrimination should be understood as a form of sex discrimination. Indeed, as Wood explains, this case is actually pretty straightforward. “Hively alleges that if she had been a man married to a woman (or living with a woman, or dating a woman) and everything else had stayed the same, Ivy Tech would not have refused to promote her and would not have fired her,” Wood writes. If this claim proves to be true, then it “describes paradigmatic sex discrimination.”

In reaching this conclusion, Wood acknowledges that the lawmakers who drafted the Civil Rights Act of 1964 probably did not expect it to be used this way. But the conclusion that Title VII can be read more expansively than its drafters anticipated was embraced by Justice Antonin Scalia’s opinion for the Supreme Court in Oncale v. Sundowner Offshore Services.

Oncale was a case of male-on-male sexual harassment, something that, as Scalia wrote, “was assuredly not the principal evil Congress was concerned with when it enacted Title VII.” But so what?

As Scalia explained, “statutory prohibitions often go beyond the principal evil to cover reasonably comparable evils, and it is ultimately the provisions of our laws rather than the principal concerns of our legislators by which we are governed.”

A prohibition on discrimination “because of . . . sex” was expansive enough to cover male-on-male sexual harassment in Oncale. And it is big enough to encompass discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. So holds the Seventh Circuit in Hively.

As Wood notes in her opinion, “for many years, the courts of appeals of this country understood the prohibition against sex discrimination to exclude discrimination on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation.” Hively is now an outlier, and the Supreme Court typically takes up cases where the federal appeals courts disagree. It is all but certain to take up this case.

That means the fate of gay and bisexual workers is likely to rest with Justice Anthony Kennedy, a conservative who often provides the fifth vote in favor of gay rights. Whether Kennedy does so in this case remains to be seen—though the lopsided vote in Hively should be an encouraging sign for supporters of LGBT rights.

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress.org on April 4, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Ian Millhiser is the Justice Editor at ThinkProgress. He is a skeptic of the Supreme Court, hater of Samuel Alito, and a constitutional lawyer of ill repute. Contact him at  imillhiser@thinkprogress.org.

Trump revokes executive order, weakens protections for LGBT workers

Wednesday, March 29th, 2017

An executive order President Trump signed Monday rescinded an executive order President Obama implemented that would have required companies that contract with the federal government to provide documentation about their compliance with various federal laws. Some have argued that this will make it harder to enforce the LGBT protections President Obama implemented for employees of federal contractors—as well as many other protections those workers enjoyed.

Trump rescinded the Fair Pay and Safe Workplaces order, also known as Executive Order 13673, that President Obama issued in 2014. That order required companies wishing to contract with the federal government to show that they’ve complied with various federal laws and other executive orders. Notably, Obama issued that order in tandem with Executive Order 13672, which prohibited contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

Executive Order 13673 was enjoined by a federal judge in Texas back in October, but had it been implemented, it would have improved accountability for businesses that contract with the federal government. Enforcement of 13672, the LGBT protections, does not require this order, but would have been stronger with it. Whatever its fate in court may have been, it’s now gone forever.

LGBT people are particularly vulnerable to discrimination, even with 13672 still in place. Obama’s LGBT executive order amended previous presidential orders that also protected the employees of contractors on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, and age, but all of those other categories are also afforded protection under various federal laws (the Civil Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act). Sexual orientation and gender identity are the only identity categories without explicit nondiscrimination protections under federal law, and fewer than half the states offer LGBT protections at the state level. That means Obama’s executive order is the only legal force protecting over a million workers.

Camilla Taylor, senior counsel at Lambda Legal, was the first to raise concerns that this change would impact the LGBT community. As she explained to Keen News Service, “It’s sending a message to these companies…that the federal government simply doesn’t care whether or not they violate the law.”

National Center for Lesbian Rights Executive Director Kate Kendell also said in a statement, “President Trump’s quiet take-down yesterday of federal safeguards against employment discrimination for millions of LGBT Americans is yet another example of why our elected officials, advocates, and our community must remain vigilant and continue working together to stop this administration’s regressive and harmful policies.”

When a draft of a “religious freedom” executive order that would have licensed discrimination against LGBT people was circulating, the White House tried to stir up some positive press by promising that it would “leave in place” Obama’s 2014 order protecting LGBT workers.

“President Trump continues to be respectful and supportive of LGBTQ rights,” the statement read. The New York Times’ Jeremy Peters fell over himself to praise the statement for using “stronger language than any Republican president has before in favor of equal legal protections for gay lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people.”

It’s not a surprise, however, that Trump is walking back other executive orders that weaken the LGBT protections. Trump promised to undo all of Obama’s executive orders.

That “religious freedom” executive order hasn’t gone away either. A month after the draft leaked and the White House assured LGBT people it wasn’t signing it at that time, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told The Heritage Foundation’s Daily Signal that it was still coming. “I think we’ve discussed executive orders in the past, and for the most part we’re not going to get into discussing what may or may not come until we’re ready to announce it,” he said at the time. “So I’m sure as we move forward we’ll have something.”

This article was originally posted at Thinkprogress.org on March 29, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

Zack Ford is the LGBT Editor at ThinkProgress.org. Gay, Atheist, Pianist, Unapologetic “Social Justice Warrior.” Contact him at zford@thinkprogress.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ZackFord.

North Carolina just lost out on another 730 jobs because of its anti-LGBT law

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

Zach FordThis week, North Carolina found out it is not getting 730 new jobs and a quarter-billion-dollar impact that it was the top contender for. The reason? Its anti-LGBT law, HB2, which bans trans people from using the bathroom and bars municipalities from protecting LGBT people from discrimination.

CoStar Group Inc., a real estate analytics company, had been shopping around cities to build a new research operations headquarters, and the contenders were Charlotte, Richmond, Atlanta, and Kansas City. The Atlanta Business Chronicle heard from sources that Charlotte was the favorite. But the jobs are going to Richmond.

According to David Dorsch, CoStar Group’s commercial real estate broker, “The primary reason they chose Richmond over Charlotte was HB2.” CoStar Group was itself, a bit mum, simply confirming the jobs were going to Richmond-and no expansions were planned anywhere else. But Dorsch was adamant that the jobs were another casualty of the discriminatory law. “The best thing we can do as citizens in North Carolina is to show up on Nov. 8 and think about which party is costing us jobs and which one is not.”

Co-Star’s expansion is the latest-and one of the biggest-losses the state has faced over HB2. In April, PayPal backed out of a 400-job expansion in Charlotte and Deutsche Bank froze a 250-job expansion in Cary-both companies openly stating they refused to expand in a state with such a discriminatory law.

North Carolina has also lost several prominent sporting events, such as the NBA All-Star Game, various NCAA championships, and the ACC championships, each a significant economic impact the state will no longer enjoy.

Additionally, there are countless conventions, entertainers, and film companies that have backed out of economic commitments in North Carolina. Numerous states have even banned state-funded travel to the state. Plus, the state has to spend money to defend the law in court; the legislature even redirected $500,000 from emergency relief funds to cover the legal costs. That was before Hurricane Matthew devastated the state with massive flooding, and Gov. Pat McCrory (R) insists that even though he didn’t veto that measure, he hasn’t actually spent that money (yet).

But McCrory’s administration denies there’s been any backlash whatsoever. His Commerce Secretary, John Skvarla, insisted this week that HB2 “hasn’t moved the needle one iota.” Indeed, he claimed that the state is financially and operationally in the “best position” it’s ever been.

As the Charlotte Observer pointed out, this doesn’t jibe with the losses that local business leaders have reported because of decreased tourism and development. Johnny Harris, a real estate developer in Charlotte, believes that “ for every one company that decides to relocate to North Carolina that another 10 probably are not, deterred by HB2.”

They’re not in total denial, though. Skvarla also admitted that the state made PayPal give back a ceremonial wooden bowl that McCrory had given to the company as a gift celebrating the original plan to expand in North Carolina. As the Observer described it, “state officials did what any jilted ex might: Asked for their stuff back.”

It could be that because the boycotts were either new expansions that don’t appear as losses or recurring events that haven’t happened again yet, they don’t show up in Skvarla’s numbers. But the numbers do show up.

In September, Facing South estimated that, based only on the backlash that was evident so far at the time, the law’s cost would be well over $200 million. Wired similarly crunched the numbers in September and found losses approaching $400 million. And back in May, the Williams Institute made a similar estimate, but also counted the $4.8 billion in federal funding North Carolina receives that it would no longer be eligible for because of its enforcement of HB2 in schools and universities?—?a grand total of $5 billion in potential losses, per year.

This article was originally posted at Thinkprogress.org on October 25, 2016.
Reprinted with permission
.

Zack Ford is the LGBT Editor at ThinkProgress.org. Gay, Atheist, Pianist, Unapologetic “Social Justice Warrior.” Contact him at zford@thinkprogress.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ZackFord.

A governor just sued his own attorney general over LGBT employment protections

Wednesday, October 5th, 2016

pphlnood_400x400The attorney general said he wasn’t going to stop blocking contracts unless he was sued, so the governor sued.

Louisiana’s governor just sued its attorney general over whether lawyers the state hires should be allowed to discriminate against LGBT people.

If that sounds odd, that’s because it is. And though there’s an easy moral answer to the conundrum, the legal answer might be far more complicated.

Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) was elected last year to succeed Bobby Jindal (R). One of the first things he did when taking office was reverse Jindal’s anti-LGBT policies, including Jindal’s executive order allowing businesses to discriminate against same-sex couples without any consequence from the state. Edwards then issued his own executive order protecting state workers and contractors from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. It was nearly identical to President Obama’s 2014 executive order protecting LGBT federal employees and contractors, as well as Louisiana gubernatorial executive orders protecting LGB state employees that were in place before Jindal rescinded them in 2008.

But despite both the state and federal precedent for such executive action, Attorney General Jeff Landry (R) wasn’t having it. Prompted by anti-LGBT lawmakers opposed to both Edwards’ executive order and the Obama administration’s guidance protecting transgender students, he issued an eight-page opinion in May declaring that neither was legally enforceable in the state.

“The brief answer is an Executive Order cannot expand or create state law,” Landry wrote. “‘Gender identity’ is not and has never been a legally protected class under state or federal anti-discrimination laws.” He insisted that the order protecting LGBT employees “should be interpreted as merely aspirational and without any binding legal effect.”

Even giving Landry the benefit of the doubt that he was just trying to check the power of the executive, his own anti-LGBT biases are not in doubt. He also said that the federal transgender guidance “creates an environment in which children may be more easily exposed to sexual predators.” Rules simply affirming transgender students’ identities “place the mental well-being and privacy rights of ninety-nine percent of Louisiana’s children at risk without any demonstrable evidence of benefit to the less than one percent of the population this policy purports to benefit.”

For the past four months, Landry and Edwards have engaged in this standoff, warring over state legal contracts. Edwards keeps including LGBT nondiscrimination language in proposed contracts with private lawyers, and Landry keeps blocking them specifically because of this language. He hasblocked at least 37 contracts, including 11 from the Department of Insurance. Defending his actions, Landry’s office has asserted, “The Attorney General requires antidiscrimination clauses in legal contracts to be written in conformity with State and Federal law, therefore, these provisions should not contain language exceeding what the law requires.”

Matthew Block, general counsel for the Edwards administration, explained last week that these blocked contracts are starting to have a big impact on the management of the state. “We have a lot of things that need to get attended to and we need to have people doing their work,” he told NOLA.com. “I have law firms not getting paid for the work that they are doing. I have law firms that are waiting around to start work.”

1-ttjhkebbo9sxiijhid_lyaSo on Friday, Edwards sued Landry in state court. At a press conference Friday, he was pretty blunt about the standoff. “He basically told me that if I wanted him to approve those contracts that I would have to sue him,” Edwards said. “So I’m obliging him on that.”

The lawsuit states that Landry “has refused to perform the ministerial task of approving private contracts and appointing private counsel for numerous executive agencies of the State.” He has “explicitly rejected most of the contracts on the grounds that the contracting attorneys should not have agreed not to discriminate in employment and the rendering of services” in accordance with the executive order. In other words, the lawyers who would be impacted by the LGBT protections have already agreed to them, but Landry has still denied the contracts because that language is in them.

The conflict is spurring some interesting political divisions. For example, Louisiana Senate President John Alario (R), voted against LGBT nondiscrimination protections in the legislature, but he told NOLA.com that he believes the governor isn’t overstepping his authority. It’s Landry, he said, who he thinks “is stepping out of bounds.”

Landry has stood by his actions, saying in an interview that he looks forward to “defending the legislature and their priorities and their wishes.” He added that he believes the protections create “additional liabilities and expenses for the state,” but refused to answer questions about his own position on protecting LGBT people from discrimination.

It will now be up to the state courts to resolve the conflict, or at least to interpret whether Landry is within his authority as attorney general to rebuff the executive order. It could, however, be the first time that a court weighs the validity of an executive order that protects workers from discrimination.

But Louisiana is hardly an outlier for the actions Edwards took. There are 12 other states that, through executive order or similar administrative regulation, extend employment protections to state employees on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity that exceed protections under state law. And of course, past Louisiana governors protected sexual orientation without having to sue their attorneys general to enforce them.

This article was originally posted at Thinkprogress.org on October 5, 2016.
Reprinted with permission
.

Zack Ford is the LGBT Editor at ThinkProgress.org. Gay, Atheist, Pianist, Unapologetic “Social Justice Warrior.” Contact him at zford@thinkprogress.org. Follow him on Twitter at @ZackFord.

 

LGBT Workers Face Rampant Discrimination, Higher Taxes and Receive Fewer Workplace Benefits

Friday, June 7th, 2013

Image: Kate Thomas87% of polled Americans believe it’s illegal under federal law to fire an employee just because that employee is gay or lesbian.

They’re wrong.

A new report demonstrates how 40 years of advocacy have yet to yield federal non-discrimination protections for LGBT workers. Instead of having a fair chance to get ahead, our existing federal laws result in LGBT workers and their families being held back by bias, fewer workplace benefits and higher taxes.

There are many ways America’s basic bargain – i.e. the widely-held belief that those who work hard can get ahead – is broken for LGBT workers. Here are just a few:

  • Lack of nondiscrimination protections.

    There’s no federal law – and only a minority of states – that provide explicit protections for LGBT workers. In 29 states, state law allows private employers to fire someone based on their sexual orientation — and based on their gender identity in 34 states. Progress has perhaps also been impeded by the fact that 87% of Americans think that it is already illegal under federal law to fire someone simply for being LGBT.

  • Higher levels of education lower unemployment rates.

    The National Transgender Discrimination Survey found that although transgender workers are more highly educated than the general population, their unemployment rates were twice the rate of the population as a whole–with rates for transgender people of color reaching as high as 4x the national unemployment rate

  • Family and medical leave.

    LGBT workers are denied equal access to unpaid leave to provide care for a same-sex spouse or partner. Transgender workers are often denied medical leave for transition-related medical care.

  • Family health benefits.

    An employer that extends family health benefits to married opposite-sex couples can legally deny that same coverage to married and unmarried same-sex couples. When LGBT workers do receive these benefits, middle-income families pay an estimated $3,200 in extra taxes for the same benefits that heterosexual workers get tax-free.

  • Spousal retirement benefits.

    LGBT workers are systematically denied Social Security spousal benefits designed to protect workers’ families during their retirement years. This costs retired same-sex couples up to $14,484 per year and a surviving same-sex widow or widower up to $28,968 per year.

  • Death and disability benefits.

    If an LGBT worker dies or becomes disabled, the worker’s same-sex spouse–and in some cases, his or her children–will be denied Social Security disability and survivor benefits, costing a surviving spouse with two children as much as $29,520 in annual benefits.

 

Even if same-sex couples were granted the right to marry in all 50 states tomorrow, it would still be perfectly legal to fire someone for being gay under federal law and in a majority of states.

“The public increasingly gets that discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity is flat wrong, and it’s past time for our work place and public policies to catch up with public sentiment,” Mary Kay Henry, President of SEIU, said in a statement. “LGBTQ workers and their families deserve the same workplace protections and benefits as other workers and their families.”

This comprehensive report shows why it’s long past time for Congress and President Obama to take action to give LGBT workers the freedom to build a successful career without fear of harassment or discrimination based on who they are or who they love.

Giving credit where credit’s due: This report was created in coordination with a coalition of leading LGBT organizations, policy experts and business advocates that include the Movement Advancement Project (MAP), the Center for American Progress (CAP) and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), in partnership with Freedom to Work, National Center for Transgender Equality, National Partnership for Women and Families, Out and Equal Workplace Advocates and SEIU.

A Broken Bargain: Discrimination, Fewer Benefits, and More Taxes for LGBT Workers – Read and/or download the full report and the executive summary at http://lgbtmap.org/lgbt-workers.

This article was originally printed on SEIU on June 4, 2013.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kate Thomas is a blogger, web producer and new media coordinator at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a labor union with 2.1 million members in the healthcare, public and property service sectors. Kate’s passions include the progressive movement, the many wonders of the Internet and her job working for an organization that is helping to improve the lives of workers and fight for meaningful health care and labor law reform. Prior to working at SEIU, Katie worked for the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) as a communications/public relations coordinator and editor of AMSA’s newsletter appearing in The New Physician magazine.

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