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Posts Tagged ‘LGBT’

Missouri Supreme Court opens the door to LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections

Tuesday, February 26th, 2019

The Missouri Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a gay employee’s case alleging sex discrimination in the workplace could proceed, reversing a lower court ruling and establishing a new precedent that could help protect embattled non-heterosexual workers in the future.

The court also ruled on a separate but similar case involving a transgender student who claimed his school discriminated against him by blocking him from bathrooms and other facilities, saying the student deserved a fair hearing.

At stake in the first case is the extent to which gay, lesbian, and bi people in Missouri are protected on the basis of their sex. State law does not extend employment nondiscrimination protections on the basis of “sexual orientation,” meaning it’s fully legal to fire someone based on their sexuality. But in this case, while the plaintiff acknowledged that he is gay, he claimed that he faced discrimination because of sex stereotyping, not because of his sexual orientation.

Harold Lampley, an employee in the state’s Department of Social Services Child Support Enforcement Division, filed a complaint arguing that he was harassed at work for his non-stereotypical behaviors, noting that employees with stereotypical behaviors were not similarly treated. He claimed to have experienced regular verbal abuse and forced closed-door meetings about his performance. After he complained, he also alleged that he experienced retaliation in the form of poor performance evaluations not consistent with his work.

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Lampley’s friend and coworker Rene Frost likewise claimed that she suffered discrimination merely for her affiliation with Lampley. The employer allegedly violated her privacy by publicly announcing her performance review. After she complained, she said she faced retaliation, such as having her desk moved away from Lampley’s and other coworkers with whom she collaborated. Frost claimed she was also banned from eating lunch with Lampley and allegedly faced similar verbal abuse and harassment.

The Missouri Commission on Human Rights concluded this discrimination wasn’t actionable because Lampley’s sexual orientation isn’t protected, and a lower court agreed. It relied on a similar ruling against a recycling company employee named James Pittman, who claimed he had been called a “cocksucker,” asked if he had AIDS, and harassed for having a same-sex partner. The Western District Missouri Court of Appeals ruled in 2015 that Pittman could find no relief under state law, and a circuit court concluded the same must be true for Lampley and Frost.

But in Tuesday’s ruling, the Missouri Supreme Court concluded that being gay does not preclude an employee from protection on the basis of “sex,”which includes sex stereotyping. “[A]n employee who suffers an adverse employment decision based on sex-based stereotypical attitudes of how a member of the employee’s sex should act can support an inference of unlawful sex discrimination,” the majority wrote.

“Sexual orientation is incidental and irrelevant to sex stereotyping. Sex discrimination is discrimination, it is prohibited by the Act, and an employee may demonstrate this discrimination through evidence of sexual stereotyping,” they explained. The Commission was wrong not to give them an opportunity to demonstrate their sex-stereotyping claim, and the Court ordered it to issue Lampley and Frost right-to-sue letters.

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The second case on which the Court ruled this week similarly focused on the debate over protections on the basis of sex.

Student “R.M.A.” filed a complaint against Blue Springs School District for denying him access to the boys’ restrooms and locker rooms. The school initially countered both that “gender identity” was not protected under the state’s “sex” protections and also that it should not be considered a “public accommodation” and thus the nondiscrimination law should not apply to it at all. Without specifying which reasoning informed its opinion, a lower court dismissed R.M.A.’s complaint outright.

In a 5-2 ruling this week, the state Supreme Court reached a different conclusion. Rather than considering sex stereotyping, the majority recognized that once a transgender individual has legal changed their sex, as R.M.A. has, they are protected on the basis of that sex. In a footnote, the majority called out the dissenting justices for relying on a distinction between “legal sex” and “biological sex” that is not actually found anywhere in the law. R.M.A. is a boy, and if he’s not being allowed to use boys’ facilities, then he deserves his day in court.

This pair of rulings opens the door to far greater protection for LGBTQ people under Missouri state law — but with some limitations.

The first ruling, for example, accepts the premise that sexual orientation is not itself connected to sex stereotyping, even though expectations about the gender of a person’s romantic partners are obvious stereotypes themselves. This means that while Lampley and other gay, lesbian, and bi workers will now have an opportunity to pursue discrimination claims moving forward, it will require them to prove that they were targeted because of sex stereotypes not directly connected to their sexual orientation.

Likewise, the ruling in favor of R.M.A. seems to rely on transgender people legally changing their sex designation before they are eligible for protection. State law requires transgender people provide proof of surgery to update their birth certificates, although some judges have granted the new gender markers without that requirement. This means that there may still be inconsistent financial and medical obstacles to qualifying for legal protection.

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Neither ruling weighs the merits of the discrimination claims, so it also remains to be seen whether Lampley or R.M.A. will prevail once their complaints are given due consideration.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on February 26, 2019. 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.

Texas has a new plan to discriminate against LGBT people

Monday, April 17th, 2017

Texas’ anti-transgender bill has seemingly stalled, but inspired by North Carolina, Republican state lawmakers have a new plan to expand discrimination against LGBT people.

Last month, Texas seemed on track to follow in the footsteps of North Carolina’s HB2 and pass its own bill, SB6, mandating anti-transgender discrimination across the entire state. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) launched a massive misinformation campaign to scare up support of the bathroom bill, and the Senate passed it, terrifying the trans kids and families who testified against it. The bill was blocked in the House by various House Republican leaders who indicated they believed it was unnecessary.

But now, those House Republicans have introduced a new bill that looks awfully familiar.

Unlike the various complicated aspects of SB6, HB 2899 does only one thing: ban cities from passing nondiscrimination protections. To that end, it also would nullify any municipal nondiscrimination ordinances already in place.

This approach strongly resembles the “compromise” bill North Carolina lawmakers recently passed to replace HB2, which banned cities and school districts from passing any ordinance “regulating private employment practices or regulating public accommodations” until December 1, 2020.

These both, in turn, follow the example set by Tennessee and Arkansas—which have “preemption” laws that prohibit cities from protecting any class from discrimination that isn’t already protected under state law, which amounts to a de facto ban on LGBT protections. North Carolina’s law sloppily allows protections that already exist to remain in place, but Texas takes the approach a step further. By banning and nullifying all nondiscrimination ordinances, HB 2899 would prohibit cities from doing anything to address discrimination on the local level.

HB 2899 would effectively be a statewide license to discriminate against LGBT people. By regulating schools, it would also have severe consequences for LGBT students, who could not be protected from bullying. Trans students could not be guaranteed the right to use the restrooms and other facilities that match their gender identity.

Given the NCAA and NBA were convinced to abandon their boycotts of North Carolina over its replacement law, it seems likely that Texas lawmakers expect their new plan will similarly be safer from economic backlash. This is despite the fact that many cities and states are maintaining their bans on publicly-funded travel to North Carolina.

House State Affairs Committee Chairman Byron Cook (R), who blocked the Senate anti-trans bill, called HB 2899 “the right kind of balance” between “privacy”—i.e. discrimination against transgender people—and avoiding “a chilling effect on business.”

Cook’s committee will consider the new bill next Wednesday.

This article was originally posted at Thinkprogress.org on April 14, 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.

House Republicans stand strong for anti-LGBT discrimination in the wake of Orlando shootings

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016

LauraClawsonLGBT people may be able to marry, but in many states they can also be fired or not hired because they’re LGBT. And House Republicans are fighting to keep that from changing.

President Obama’s executive order banning federal contractors from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity went into effect in 2015. Democratic Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney has been trying to get the House to pass an amendment backing up that executive order, but House Republicans are not having it. They’ve beenfighting to keep allowing employers to discriminate against LGBT workers even if they get federal money, and they’re not stopping now.

The House Rules Committee blocked Maloney’s amendment from getting a full House vote. Again, we’re talking about something saying that if you want federal money, you can’t discriminate. And context matters here:

Maloney argued that allowing a vote to prohibit discrimination in the workplace after the targeted attack on the gay nightclub would send a message of solidarity with the LGBT community.

“It’s hard to imagine that any act that is so horrific could lead to anything positive. But if we were going to do anything, it would be a very positive step to say that discrimination has no place in our law and to reaffirm the president’s actions in this area,” Maloney told The Hill. “Seems to me a pretty basic thing to do.”

Sorry, make that—context should matter here. But House Republicans have made it clear that there’s no context that would stop them from enabling discrimination.

This blog originally appeared at DailyKos.com on June 15, 2016. Reprinted with permission. 

Laura Clawson has been a Daily Kos contributing editor since December 2006. Labor editor since 2011.

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.

Employment Equality - When is the Federal Government Going to get on Board with LGBT Employment Rights? A Lawyer’s Look at State & Federal Workplace Protections

Thursday, January 14th, 2016

BraniganRobertsonThe topic of LGBT rights has dramatically increased in the last few years. Most have heard about the recent Supreme Court case, Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage throughout the nation. Whether on the legislative floor or in the courthouse, there is no question that LGBT rights have really come a long way in America in the last few years. But what about in the workplace? What employment law protections are there against LGBT discrimination at work?

What many people do not know is that workplace protections for LGBT employees vary by state jurisdiction. This can be confusing as many people may assume that the law is uniform throughout the nation. It’s not. Simply put, federal and state laws may differ as to whether an employer may discriminate against an employee because of his or her sexual orientation.

Federal Law Does Not Ban Sexual Orientation Discrimination

Federal law is not very good at protecting LGBT employees in the workplace. The main federal anti-discrimination law is Title VII. It doesn’t ban discrimination based on sexual orientation. Some federal courts have held that discrimination by an employer based on an employee’s sexual orientation is not a violation of federal law. See Hamner v. St. Vincent Hosp. & Health Ctr., Inc. (7th Cir. 2000) and Bibby v. Philadelphia Coca Cola Bottling Co. (3rd Cir. 2001) (“It is clear…that Title VII does not prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation.”) What is really interesting is that Title VII prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee based upon their “sex,” but some courts have interpreted that to refer only to their biological gender, not someone’s sexual orientation or identity.

However, just because an LGBT employee is not be protected at the federal level does not mean they are out of luck. Most states have some sort of protection banning discrimination in the workplace based on an employee’s sexual orientation. For example, California explicitly bans employment discrimination based on “sexual orientation,” “gender identity,” and “gender expression.” See CA Government Code § 12940. Case law supports this as well.

State Law is Better for LGBT Employment Rights (Depending on Where You Live)

Complicating the matter, there are still a few states (eighteen in total) that have no state laws whatsoever prohibiting LGBT discrimination in the workplace. To make it even more confusing, some states prohibit discrimination in all workplaces (public and private) but some states, such as Alaska and Arizona, only prohibit public employers from discriminating based on sexual orientation.

The good news is that there is an increasing amount of states joining the movement of implementing laws that are very favorable to LGBT employees. From 2012 until present, three states have enacted laws prohibiting discrimination in the workplace based on sexual orientation. I’m an lawyer in California which has had laws protecting LGBT employees in the workplace since the early 1990s. So why is the federal government not on board with most of these states yet?

Answering that question is pretty difficult as there are so many factors to be considered as to why the federal government has not followed the majority of the states yet. But what can be said is this; in today’s legislative environment, the federal government usually does not implement controversial or hotly debated law until an overwhelming majority of the states have already done so. Rather than anger many states by forcing them to adopt a law they dislike, the federal government will sit on the sidelines until enough political pressure has built up that Congressional leaders and the Supreme Court align with the states. For example, the Supreme Court did not legalize same sex marriage until thirty-seven states had already done so and public opinion swung towards legalization. So if that is the case then when is the federal government going to implement favorable laws protecting LGBT employees in the workplace?

The Momentum is Growing for Federal Protection

As stated above, most states offer some level of protection to LGBT employees, but some states provide a higher level or protection than others. So arguably, there is not yet an overwhelming majority of states that offer LGBT employees total protection like that of the laws in California. But every year a state or two adopts favorable LGBT employment laws. Thus, assuming a state or two adopts favorable laws every year we may see some major changes to federal law within the next decade protecting LGBT employees.

Moreover, aside from statutory changes, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has taken a stance on the issue. In 2015, the EEOC released a statement that federal law prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee based on his or her sexual orientation because it is a type of sex discrimination. Considering that the EEOC is the federal administrative body that handles employment claims, this is a huge step in the right direction. However, such statements made by the EEOC are not binding on the federal courts or the legislature, but they can influence a court or the legislature to take a certain stance.

At the end of the day, LGBT rights in the workplace have come a long way from what they used to be only a few decades ago. In the span of only a couple decades, most states have adopted some sort of law protecting LGBT employees, and almost half of the states have total protection for LGBT employees. Things are looking good for the LGBT community when it comes to protection in the workplace, but there is still some work to be done. In light of Obergefell v. Hodges and the most recent stance taken by the EEOC, I would not be surprised if in the next decade or so, whether it be by the legislature or a Supreme Court ruling, that the federal government amend Title VII to offer more protection to LGBT employees in the workplace.

Branigan Robertson is an employment attorney in Orange County, California. He is a member of the California Bar, California Employment Lawyers Association, and the National Employment Lawyers Association. He exclusively represents employees (the little guy/gal!) in lawsuits against employers and focuses his practice on discrimination and wrongful termination. Mr. Robertson attended Chapman University School of Law and was President of the Employment Law Society.

Former Sports Broadcaster Thinks He Shouldn’t Have Been Fired Over Anti-Gay Statements

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

Ian Millhiser Craig James is a former professional football player and longtime sports broadcaster who, in 2012, took time off from his broadcasting career to mount an unsuccessful bid for the United States Senate. During that campaign, according to a lawsuit James filed Monday, he opposed equal marriage rights for same-sex couples, and called upon “Christians” to “stand up” against the advance of marriage equality. Though he briefly worked as a broadcaster for Fox Sports following his campaign, James says he was fired shortly after Fox uncovered his past anti-gay statements.

James now works for the Family Research Council, an anti-gay organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center designates as a “hate group.”

The crux of James’s lawsuit are claims that Fox “discriminated against James because of his religionin violation of the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act.” Yet his complaint (which, admittedly, is only available to the public in a redacted form) cites no actual evidence that Fox’s decision to fire James was motivated by the fact that James identifies as a Christian. Nor does it claim that Fox Sports treated other employees who held similar anti-gay views differently because those employees are not Christian. Rather, James says that “Fox Sports informed James that his short off-the-cuff statement about his beliefs regarding marriage . . . was the sole reason Fox Sports terminated him,” and he does not appear to disagree with Fox’s alleged claim that they were motivated solely by their own opposition to James’s anti-gay statements.

Instead, James attempts a two-bumper bank shot to convert this anti-anti-gay firing into a kind of religious discrimination. James, his lawsuit emphasizes, holds anti-gay beliefs that are motivated byhis religious beliefs, and this, he claims, is enough to protect his job even if Fox would be allowed to fire an employee who made similar statements that were driven by a secular belief.

In other contexts, the Supreme Court has rejected attempts to use cries of religious discrimination to excuse acts of bigotry. Four years after Congress banned whites-only restaurants, for example, the owner of a South Carolina barbecue chain put up a sign protesting that “[t]he law makes us serve n***ers, but any money we get from them goes to the Ku Klux Klan.” He also claimed that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “contravenes the will of God,” and that he should be exempted from having to follow it because of his religious beliefs. The Supreme Court disagreed, in Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises, labeling the restaurant owner’s claim “patently frivolous.”

James’s case, however, was filed in Texas court, where the conservative Texas Supreme Court may see things differently than the justices of another era. It also arises under a different area of the law than Piggie Park. James sued under the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act, which, among other things, prohibits discrimination “because of or on the basis of any aspect of religious observance, practice, or belief, unless an employer demonstrates that the employer is unable reasonably to accommodate the religious observance or practice of an employee or applicantwithout undue hardship to the conduct of the employer’s business.”

There is surprisingly little Texas case law interpreting this particular provision. Nevertheless, Texas civil rights law explicitly tracks “the policies of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and its subsequent amendments,” so federal court decisions examining similar cases should inform the Texas judges confronted by James’s case. At least one federal appeals court case, however, suggests that employers are not required to accommodate the anti-gay views of their employees, even if those views are motivated by religion.

In Peterson v. Hewlett-Packard Co., the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit considered an employee who posted Bible verses that, among other things, said that men who have sex with men should be “put to death.” Admittedly, this is a more egregious case than theJames case, as James was not fired for saying that gay or bisexual men should be executed (when he was later asked about executing gay people, he responded tepidly). Nevertheless, the court inPeterson offered a sweeping dismissal of the idea that an employer is required to accommodate statements that could cause lesbian, gay or bisexual employees to feel unwelcome. It is an undue hardship, the court explained, to inhibit an employer’s “efforts to attract and retain a qualified, diverse workforce, which the company reasonably views as vital to its commercial success.”

James was an unusually visible employee who made his anti-gay statements in an unusually public forum. And James admits that Fox Sports was motivated by similar fears to the ones that concerned the employer in Peterson. He quotes a Fox spokesperson, who reportedly said that James was fired because “[w]e just asked ourselves how Craig’s statements would play in our human resources department” and concluded that “[h]e couldn’t say those things here.”

Nevertheless, the Texas judicial system is unusually conservative, so there is no guarantee that it will not give people like James a special right to make offensive statements about LGBT people with impunity.

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress.org on August 4, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

Ian Millhiser is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund and the Editor of ThinkProgress Justice. He received a B.A. in Philosophy from Kenyon College and a J.D., magna cum laude, from Duke University. Ian clerked for Judge Eric L. Clay of the United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, and has worked as an attorney with the National Senior Citizens Law Center’s Federal Rights Project, as Assistant Director for Communications with the American Constitution Society, and as a Teach For America teacher in the Mississippi Delta. His writings have appeared in a diversity of legal and mainstream publications, including the New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, U.S. News and World Report, Slate, the Guardian, the American Prospect, the Yale Law and Policy Review and the Duke Law Journal. Ian’s first book is Injustices: The Supreme Court’s History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted.

Catholic Teacher Fired For Being Lesbian Fights Back

Wednesday, August 5th, 2015

Jack JenkinsIn June, Margie Winters was fired from her job as director of religious education at Waldron Mercy Academy in Merion, Pennsylvania for being public about her same-sex marriage.

“What it was like inside, was like a death,” Winters told a local CBS affiliate in Philadelphia.

But Winters and a band of supporters are refusing to let that be the end of her story, or her teaching career. On Monday afternoon, the former schoolteacher and 50 of her supporters marched to the Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Center City offices to deliver a petition demanding her reinstatement. She attempted to deliver the hefty box of papers, signed by more than 22,000 people, inside the building, but was denied entry by a security guard.

“Because I’m so threatening,” Winters joked.

Winters has been embraced by outraged local Catholics — and even the mayor of her city — who oppose her firing. Among other expressions of support for the veteran teacher, a group of parentshas formed the organization “Stand With Margie,” complete with a website, a Facebook pagesporting more than 11,000 “likes,” and a GoFundMe campaign that has raised $17,000 for Winters and her wife. In addition, the petition drive was organized by Faithful America, an online progressive Christian advocacy organization that claims over 300,000 active participants.

“Margie Winters’ firing was unjust and contrary to Catholic values, and she should be reinstated immediately,” the petition, addressed to Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput, read. “Please inform the school’s leadership that you will not interfere with their staffing or threaten their status as a Catholic school.”

According to Philly.com, the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has denied it had anything to do with her firing. But Winters disputes this claim, noting she told school administrators when they hired her eight years ago that she was in a same-sex relationship. The only reason she was fired, she says, was because the archdiocese received an anonymous complaint about her sexuality in June — mere weeks before the Supreme Court declare same-sex marriage legal across the country, which Chaput publicly opposed.

“It wasn’t until the archdiocese was notified that something changed,” she told Philly.com. “You can draw your own conclusions.”

Regardless of archdiocese’s involvement with Winters’ termination, the archbishop has said he supports the school’s decision.

“I’m very grateful to the Religious Sisters of Mercy and to the principal and board members of Waldron Mercy for taking the steps to ensure that the Catholic faith is presented in a way fully in accord with the teaching of the church,” Chaput, speaking of Winters, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “They’ve shown character and common sense at a moment when both seem to be uncommon.”

Winters’ struggle is frustrating for her family and her supporters, but it is by no means unique. Several Catholic schoolteachers and employees have been let go for being “publicly” gay over the past year in Iowa, Massachusetts, Missouri, and Illinois. The firings have sparked sustained protests led by students, teachers, and parishioners, and Catholic communities in California, Ohio, and Florida are pushing back against local Catholic leaders in their states who have threatened to terminate LGBT employees who have public relationships.

Catholic leaders, however, maintain that they have the legal right to discriminate against LGBT people in hiring, citing a 2011 Supreme Court case that expanded the so-called “ministerial exception.” The legal precedent traditionally only allowed religious groups free reign over who they hire for ordained positions, but now gives them to ability to bypass nondiscrimination policies for any position they deem to be a “minister” — including schoolteachers. In addition, Pennsylvania currently has no robust statewide LGBT workplace protection laws, although lawmakers areintroducing bills to change that.

Although the impetus for such terminations is ostensibly Catholic theology, the decision to fire people for being open about their sexuality ultimately rests with administrators and Catholic officials. Last month in New York City, for example, a newly-hired organist at a Catholic churchstoked controversy by openly posting about his marriage to another man on Facebook. But while an organist was fired for doing the exact same thing in Illinois, the archdiocese of New York has yet to issue a statement on the matter.

The decision to fire Winters is also oddly timed, coming just two months before a planned visit by Pope Francis to Philadelphia. Pope Francis has not changed traditional Catholic teaching opposing homosexual acts, but famously declared “Who am I to judge?” when asked about gay priests in 2013, and has asked the church to become less “obsessed” with same-sex marriage and abortion.

This blog originally appeared in ThinkProgress.org on August 4, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

Jack Jenkins is the Senior Religion Reporter for ThinkProgress. He was previously the Senior Writer and Researcher for the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative at the Center for American Progress, and worked as a reporter and blogger for the Religion News Service. His stories and analysis have appeared in the Washington Post, Huffington Post, Real Clear Politics, National Catholic Reporter, and Christian Century, among other publications. Jack got his bachelor’s in history and religion/philosophy from Presbyterian College and holds a Master’s of Divinity from Harvard University. He also plays harmonica and ukulele.

Extreme Bill Would Override All Local Employment Laws, Including LGBT Protections

Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

Zack FordDuring a meeting of the Michigan House Committee on Commerce and Trade, Republican lawmakers sneakily introduced a substitute bill replacing HB 4052. The new legislation, sponsored by Rep. Earl Poleski (R), overrides all local ordinances governing employers’ relationships with their employees. Because of the way it would impose state control, opponents have dubbed it the “Death Star” bill. Not only does it have implications for any local ordinance that controls minimum wage, benefits, sick leave, union organizing and strikes, wage disputes, apprenticeship programs, and “ban the box” policies (blocking employers from asking about felony convictions), but it would also override the LGBT protections that exist in 38 Michigan municipalities.

“A local governmental body,” the new HB 4052 reads, “shall not adopt, enforce, or administer an ordinance, local policy, or local resolution regulating the relationship between an employer and its employees or potential employees if the regulation contains requirements exceeding those imposed by state or federal law.” Because state law does not include employment protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity, all of the municipalities who do protect LGBT workers would have their ordinances voided, similar to a law that passed earlier this year in Arkansas.

East Lansing Mayor Nathan Triplett (D) posted on Facebook Tuesday expressing great concern about the bill’s consideration, noting it would invalidate not only its LGBT protections, but also its Equal Benefits Ordinance, which requires the city’s contractors to offer partner benefits to employees’ same-sex partners. Describing Tuesday’s committee hearing, Triplett explained, “When State Representative Stephanie Chang pointed out that the bill would

invalidate Michigan’s 38 local nondiscrimination ordinances, the Chairman was forced to ask: ‘Will this bill really do that?’ The answer is: yes, absolutely.” East Lansing was the first community in the country to protect against discrimination based on sexual orientation; its first ordinance became law in 1972.

The “Death Star” may be one of the most sweeping preemptive bills ever considered in any state. Ten states have passed bills prohibiting cities from enacting paid sick day policies, legislation championed by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Last month, Oklahoma lawmakers passed a law overriding local bans on fracking. Michigan itself tried to preempt local minimum wage laws over a decade ago, but then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D) vetoed the bill, and Wisconsin lawmakers failed to pass a similar bill last year.

Michigan Democrats have been pushing for LGBT nondiscrimination protections at the state level, but have so far been unsuccessful. Republican lawmakers are also considering a Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), like those recently considered in Indiana and Arkansas, but Gov. Rick Snyder (R) has said he won’t sign such a bill if LGBT protections aren’t passed as well.

This blog was originally posted on May 13, 2015 on Think Progress. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: The author’s name is Zack Ford. Zack Ford is the editor of ThinkProgress LGBT at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, hailing from the small town of Newport, PA. Prior to joining ThinkProgress, Zack blogged for two years at ZackFordBlogs.com with occasional cross-posts at Pam’s House Blend. He also co-hosts a popular LGBT-issues podcast called Queer and Queerer with activist and performance artist Peterson Toscano. A graduate of Ithaca College (B.M. Music Education) and Iowa State University (M.Ed. Higher Education), Zack is an accomplished pianist with a passion for social justice education. Follow him on Twitter at @ZackFord.

Losing My Religion

Monday, October 8th, 2012

Considering how many talking points in the 2012 election have had to do with religion (Romney’s Mormonism, the morality of the Ryan budget, and Christian views on abortion and gay marriage) it’s easy to forget that in some countries, religion and party-politics are considered a private matter, not to be discussed in polite society.

The United Kingdom is one of these countries; in the land of tea and crumpets, discussing politics or religion at dinner parties is considered cheeky. And so it is surprising that religious liberties in the workplace have been brought center stage by four of Her Majesty’s subjects.

CNN’s Belief Blog brought my attention to Nadia Eweida, Shirley Chaplin, Lilian Ladele and Gary McFarlane, who allege that they were each reprimanded at work for upholding their religious beliefs. After losing on appeal in British courts, their cases were heard by the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) on September 4. A decision could take months.

Both Ms. Eweida, a nurse, and Ms. Chaplin, a flight attendant for British Airways, wore necklaces with hanging crosses to work, were told to take them off, and refused. Ms. Eweida was suspended; Ms. Chaplin was forced into early retirement.

Ms. Ladele and Mr. McFarlane both had government jobs. Ms. Ladele was a registrar who was disciplined for refusing to process civil unions involving same-sex couples. Mr. McFarlane, who has been spearheading the legal process for all four of these cases with the support of the Christian Legal Centre, was a couples counselor paid by the National Health Service. He was fired after telling his superior that because of his Christian faith he was not willing to work with same-sex couples on sex related issues.

How would their cases fare in the U.S.? How will their cases actually fare in Europe? LASIS investigates.

A word about why the European Court heard an English case involving English people, in the first place. Britain, along with 27 continental neighbors, forms part of the European Union by giving up select parts of its sovereignty to the European government, much like our 50 states vis-à-vis our federal government. An ECHR decision will have the effect of a binding court order within Britain.

Stateside, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 protects employees of both public and private institutions against religious discrimination in the workplace. The Act set up the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which evaluates discrimination claims and allows people a means to litigate them. So far, this sounds pretty similar to Britain’s employment tribunal — where our litigants lost their case.

Our Civil Rights Act states that employers must give their employees “reasonable accommodation” for their religious needs. A 2001 U.S. Court of Appeals case echoed a 1975 U.S. Court of Appeals case, and defined the reasonable accommodation standard. In the 2001 case, a police officer sued the department after being fired for not complying with uniform rules prohibiting him from wearing a gold cross pin on his shirt. He lost.

In these important cases, our courts have said that to prevail in a workplace religious discrimination case, an employee must show three things: First, that a religious belief conflicted with a work requirement; second, that the employee informed her employer of this conflict; and third, that the employee was not given reasonable accommodation and was then dismissed or sanctioned in some way.

The employer has two possible defenses. She can show that she actually offered the employee a reasonable accommodation or that after trying, no reasonable accommodation was available that wouldn’t cause the employer “undue hardship.” This “undue hardship” would constitute outlaying more than a minimal amount of money, or risking the health and safety of the workplace.

In 2004, a Christian employee was asked to sign a new diversity policy that included a provision mandating respect for homosexual co-workers. The employee considered such a requirement to be contrary to his beliefs and refused to sign – he was fired, and sued in Colorado district court on the grounds of religious discrimination. He won, with the court deciding that so long as his actions and statements were nondiscriminatory, his personal beliefs, even illogical or meanspirited ones, are protected under the law.

But for the most part, U.S. courts have dodged how we should balance individual rights to freedom of religion and the exercise of those rights sometimes being discriminatory.

In a 2012 U.S. Court of Appeals case a counselor working for a government agency was dismissed after refusing to work with same-sex couples and making her religious views clear to a woman she was paid to help. The court didn’t rule whether or not the employee’s actions were discriminatory; it simply stated that her actions did not conform to her professional standards as a licensed counselor

In the opinion of Michael J. Broyde, a law professor and senior fellow of Emory’s Center for the Study of Law and Religion, creating a discrimination exception for religious beliefs would be a “bad idea.” He believes that it would serve as a get-out-of-jail-free card for people to discriminate in the name of religion.

Organizations like the ACLU agree, and have been trying to draw the courts’ attention to this issue for years now. Many of the cases they are supporting (on the opposite side of McFarlane and the Christian Legal Centre) are still in litigation and will continue to be for some time. We can only guess as to when or how the courts will decide.

Cross-wearers Ms. Eweida and Ms. Chaplin might not like what our courts have to say on religious symbols added to uniforms of any kind. Like the British tribunal, our courts would probably not uphold the women’s right to wear crosses while at work especially if, as the defendants in these cases maintain, it was a safety issue: no hanging necklaces are allowed for either nurses or flight attendants.

As for Ms. Ladele and Mr. McFarlane, the government workers who refuse to work with same sex couples, we can probably call this one a toss-up both in the ECHR and in our own courts.

Last year, LASIS did a story about this very issue. A government worker refused to marry same sex couples. Lots of protests. But she maintained that she was just following her religious beliefs. She was reelected.

This particular area of law is still developing and the next few years on both sides of the pond should make for interesting dinner-party conversations.

EDITOR’S NOTE: An astute reader points out that the European Union’s court is the European Court of Justice. The European Court of Human Rights is part of the Council of Europe.

This blog originally appeared in New York Law School’s Program in Law and Journalism blog, Legal As She Is Spoke, on September 29, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: José Ortiz (JD Class 2014) is a graduate of the University of Puerto Rico where he majored in Political Science. He is a classically trained pianist, organist and singer having performed with the San Juan Philharmonic Chorale and the Puerto Rico Symphony Orchestra. Other than music and law, he also enjoys heated political debate and the Yankees.

First-Ever Trans Senate Witness: ‘To Be Unemployed Is Very Devastating, Demeaning, And Demoralizing’

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

Zack FordThis morning, the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee held a hearing on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would extend employment protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity. For the first time in the Senate’s history, a transgender witness testified on behalf of the bill. Kylar Broadus, founder of the Trans People of Color Coalition, discussed his experiences coming out trans, including mistreatment by police, workplace harassment, and employment discrimination:

BROADUS: When I used female restrooms, police would accost me. I would have to strip and then they still told me, “Sir, get out of the bathroom,” when I would use the ladies’ room. It’s just humiliating and dehumanizing to say the least.[…]

Prior also to the physical transition, I was working in the financial industry, which is actually a high-paying industry. But again, when I shifted or transitioned, that’s when all the trouble began. And it’s still emotional to me, because it impacted me emotionally — I suffer from post-traumatic stress as a result of the harassment that I encountered in the workplace from my employer.[…]

To be unemployed is very devastating, also demeaning and demoralizing. And then the recovery time — there is no limit on it. I still have not financially recovered. I’m underemployed. When I do talks, I tell people I’m not employable. I was lucky to be where I am and I’m happy to be where I am, but I’m one of the fortunate people that is employed. There are many more people like me that are not employed as a result of just being who they are — being good workers, but being transgender or transsexual. So I think it’s extremely important that this bill be passed to protect workers like me.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) expressed pride in the committee for inviting Broadus to speak. Watch his full testimony:

No opponents of the bill attended the hearing, so the panel and questions were mostly positive. One witness, Craig Parshall of the National Religious Broadcasters Association, testified against ENDA, arguing that religious businesses should be able to discriminate against gay and trans employees according to their beliefs. Largely the committee ignored Parshall during the questioning, and when he did express concern, Samuel Bagenstos of the University of Michigan Law School countered the technicalities of his claims, pointing out that ENDA actually has broad religious exemptions.

ENDA has been stalled in Congress for decades. Though Republican control of the House may prevent its advance yet again in 2012, today’s Senate hearing was nonetheless historic. The fact that most of the discussion at today’s hearing was supportive and non-confrontational demonstrates how significantly overdue these employment protections are.

This Blog originally appeared in Think Progress on June 12, 2012. Reprinted with Permission.

About the Author: Zack Ford is an LGBT researcher/blogger for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Prior to joining ThinkProgress, Zack blogged for two years at ZackFordBlogs.com with occasional cross-posts at Pam’s House Blend. He also co-hosts a popular LGBT-issues podcast called Queer and Queerer with activist and performance artist Peterson Toscano. Zack has a bachelor’s in Music Education from Ithaca College, where we served as student body president, a Master’s in Higher Education Student Affairs from Iowa State University, and also helped found the Central Pennsylvania LGBT Aging Network. Zack holds a B.M. in music education from Ithaca College and an M.Ed. in higher education (student affairs) from Iowa State University, but he’s originally (and proudly) from rural central Pennsylvania.

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