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Posts Tagged ‘sexual orientation’

The Supreme Court hits pause on gay and lesbian rights

Monday, December 11th, 2017

For the second time in a week, the Supreme Court signaled on Monday that it may no longer be a friendly place for victims of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The Court announced Monday that it will not hear Evans v. Georgia Regional Hospital, a surprising decision given that the question presented in Evans — whether existing law banning discrimination “because of … sex” encompasses discrimination based on sexual orientation — is a subject of disagreement among federal appeals courts.

According to the Court’s own rules, the justices are especially likely to hear cases where “a United States court of appeals has entered a decision in conflict with the decision of another United States court of appeals on the same important matter.” Maintaining the uniformity of federal law is one of the primary functions of the Supreme Court.

As a general rule, it is dangerous to overread the significance of the Court’s decision not to hear a particular case. Such denials of review are not decisions on the merits, and can sometimes reflect a quirky problem with an individual case — not that the justices are uninterested in resolving the issue presented by that case.

But the Court’s non-decision in Evans follows last week’s surprising oral argument in Masterpiece Cakeshop v. Colorado Civil Rights Commission, where Justice Anthony Kennedy — the author of the Supreme Court’s landmark marriage equality decision — appeared unwilling to let the law treat homophobia as an evil akin to racism, sexism, or other forms of invidious discrimination.

Taken together, the two events suggest that Kennedy, who believes that all people have a fundamental right to marry, is not particularly interested in abolishing discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation writ large. Without Kennedy, moreover, the project of equality for the LGBTQ community is dead in the water at the Supreme Court.

A year-and-a-half ago, Kennedy’s marriage equality opinion in Obergefell v. Hodges seemed to suggest that gay rights litigators still had many significant victories ahead of themObergefell described sexual orientation as an “immutable nature.” And it highlighted the long history of harsh discrimination against people with same-sex attractions both by the government and private actors.

This language in the Obergefell opinion seemed significant because past Supreme Court decisions established that when a group has historically faced discrimination that bears “no relation to ability to perform or contribute to society,” and especially when they face such discrimination because of an “immutable” trait that they cannot control, any law which discriminates against that group must be treated with a great deal of constitutional skepticism.

A major purpose of the Fourteenth Amendment is to eradicate institutionalized racism and government discrimination that is similar in character to racism, and Kennedy’s Obergefell opinion strongly signaled that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation meets this test.

Perhaps emboldened by these signals in Obergefell, the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit held last April that the existing ban on sex discrimination by employers prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. In an 8-3 decision joined by several Republican-appointed judges, the Seventh Circuit explained in Hively v. Ivy Tech Community College that discrimination against a lesbian employee is itself a form of sex discrimination. Being a woman attracted to women “represents the ultimate case of failure to conform to the female stereotype.”

On the day Hively was handed down, there was good reason to believe that the Supreme Court would follow the Seventh Circuit’s lead. Kennedy’s opinion in Obergefell suggested that he believes that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is both morally and legally similar to sexism. And eliminating private discrimination against gay, lesbian, and bisexual employees was the next logical step for LGBTQ rights litigators after their victory for marriage equality.

Now, however, that project is stalled. The Supreme Court’s decision not to take the Evans case leaves Hively in place, but it also leaves in place decisions in several other federal judicial circuits holding that it is perfectly legal to fire someone because they are gay. Kennedy’s questions in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, moreover, suggest that he may even be willing to roll back existing protections for such workers.

At last Tuesday’s oral argument, Kennedy was outraged by a Colorado state commissioner who said — accurately — that “freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history.” He also accused the state of not being “tolerant” or “respectful” of the religious beliefs of a baker who refused to serve a same-sex couple in violation of Colorado’s anti-discrimination law.

Kennedy, in other words, appeared to think that laws banning discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation must bend to the will of people who claim a religious justification for their prejudices — or, at least, that state officials who wish to enforce these laws must walk on eggshells to avoid offending people on the religious right.

Rather than extending civil rights protections to gay, lesbian, and bisexual workers throughout the country, Kennedy now appears more likely to roll back existing protections in states that already ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The momentum towards equality is currently paused, but it may soon move in reverse.

This article was originally published by Ian Millhiser on December 11, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Ian Millhiser is the Justice Editor for ThinkProgress, and the author of Injustices: The Supreme Court’s History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted.

Justice Department brief argues against protections for LGBTQ workers

Thursday, July 27th, 2017

On Wednesday evening, the Department of Justice moved to undermine rights for LGBTQ people to ensure they are treated fairly in the workplace. The department filed a brief arguing that prohibition of sex discrimination under federal law does not include the prohibition of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.

The federal law in question is Title VII, which is part of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title VII prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion.

The case before the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals, Zarda v. Altitude Express, centers on a now deceased skydiver. In 2010, Zarda said he was fired because of his sexual orientation. In April, the Second Circuit decided that it would not accept the argument that discrimination on sexual orientation isn’t permitted under Title VII. However, Lambda Legal requested that the ruling be reconsidered, which is why the Justice Department planned to file its amicus brief.

The power of the federal government to influence LGBTQ workplace rights can’t be underestimated, said Sharita Gruberg, associate director of the LGBT Research and Communications Project at the Center for American Progress. ThinkProgress is an editorially independent news site housed in the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

“It is the Justice Department of the U.S. It’s not just anyone, so it’s definitely going to have a lot of weight because it is the position of the U.S. government, so it will be interesting to see how Second Circuit takes those arguments,” Gruberg said.

The role of Title VII in protecting lesbian, bisexual, and gay people against discrimination has been fuzzier than the issue of whether it can protect transgender people from discrimination. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission recognized that Title VII protects transgender people from discrimination in 2012. In 2015, the agency also held that Title VII covers claims of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. But court decisions on sexual orientation protections have been mixed.

The strongest decision for the recognition of sexual orientation discrimination under Title VII was in Hively v. Ivy Community College, in which the Seventh Circuit held that sexual orientation was covered under sex discrimination in Title VII for three reasons. In that ruling, Chief Judge Diane Wood referenced Price Waterhouse V. Hopkins, a case that is commonly used to support sexual orientation as protected through Title VII by arguing that says sex discrimination includes sex stereotyping. If a stereotypical woman is considered to be heterosexual, then dating women is a failure to conform. Looking at it another way, if a woman were a man dating a woman she would not face discrimination; therefore she is facing discrimination because she is a woman. And yet another way to consider discrimination would to look at the matter of association. The Loving v. Virginia case found that discrimination based on association with someone of a different race is discrimination on the basis of race. In the case of sexual orientation, Wood used this “associational theory” to say that a refusal to promote someone based on their association with someone of the same sex qualifies as sex discrimination.

Gruberg said that with conflicting decisions from the courts, including a March 11th Circuit ruling that Title VII does not cover sexual orientation, and statements from judges such as Chief Judge Robert Katzmann of the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is likely covered under Title VII, the issue could come before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“There has been an indication last time they considered this, where Chief Katzmann noted that this is still a developing issue in courts and he felt that court should reexamine whether sex orientation discrimination is covered under Title VII, so it has been mixed,” Gruberg said. “We’re already at a circuit split so it’s something I am convinced is going to be in front of the Supreme Court soon.”

In the brief, the Justice Department noted in Hively, Judge Diane Sykes said sex as “common, ordinary usage in 1964” means “biologically male or female.” Gruberg, who commented before the brief was released, said it would not make sense for the department to address gender identity, given the courts’ past rulings.

“Courts have been much more willing to see that gender identity discrimination is straight up sex discrimination. That has not really been a question. Sexual orientation is a little bit [of a question], so it is shocking that DOJ would bring that [gender identity] up,” Gruberg said. “That is not as contested in federal courts and yet they are bringing it up as an assault on the idea that trans people have civil rights protections.”

Gruberg said that the department will likely take the most prevalent argument against including sexual orientation and say that the statute doesn’t explicitly mention sexual orientation.

“But it doesn’t say sex stereotyping either, and the courts ruled on that, and it doesn’t mention sexual harassment but we now see harassment as covered,” Gruberg said. “What it means under Title VII has been understood as far more broad than what Congress in 60s believed it meant… It is a willful disregard of the evolving definition of sex discrimination.”]

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on July 26, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Casey Quinlan is a policy reporter at ThinkProgress.

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.

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.

GOP Rep Who Voted Down ENDA Claims Gay People Are Already Protected From Employment Discrimination

Thursday, May 10th, 2012

Scott Keyes

StasserAnnieRose

It is not uncommon to believe that someone shouldn’t be fired for their sexual orientation — in fact, ninety percent of voters mistakenly say that federal law protects LGBT people employment discrimination.

It turns out that elected officials hold the same misconception — even ones who voted against such measures. Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-TX) today told ThinkProgress that he believes non-discrimination protections are in place for gay workers and that no “citizen of the United States should be discriminated against for any reason:”

STRASSER: Do you believe in other protections for gay people outside of marriage, things like hospital visitation or protection from being fired in the workplace?

MARCHANT: I don’t think any citizen of the United States should be discriminated against for any reason.

KEYES: So if there were legislation saying it’d be illegal to discriminate and fire someone for being gay…

MARCHANT: Those laws are already on the books.

KEYES: I don’t think that’s a law right now.

MARCHANT: Well, I’m not going to stand here and argue with you. I believe that those protections are afforded every citizen of the United States. Whether those laws are enforced or not, that’s up to the Justice Department. I believe that those rights are on the books.

Watch it:

Rep. Marchant mistakenly thinks gay workplace discrimination is already illegal

Marchant seems to have forgotten about the role he played in blocking legislation that would have enacted the protections he championed today. In 2007, Marchant voted against the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, legislation that would have protected LGBT people from workplace discrimination.

In actuality, an employer is able to fire someone for being gay in 29 states and for being transgender in 34 states, and a huge number of LGBT workers have acknowledged discrimination at work.

Luckily, Rep. Marchant will get the opporunity to renew his commitment to fight discrimination of LGBT workers. A bipartisan group of senators released a letter today calling on Congress to hold hearings about putting a non-discrimination law in place. The Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee will take up the issue on June 12.

This blog originally appeared in Think Progress on May 10, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

About the author(s): Scott Keyes is a reporter for ThinkProgress.org at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Scott went to school at Stanford University where he received his B.A. in Political Science and M.A. in Sociology. He has appeared on MSNBC and TBD Newstalk TV and been a guest on many radio shows. His writing has been published by The Atlantic, Politico, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Chronicle of Higher Education. Scott comes to DC from southwest Ohio, a state very near and dear to his heart.
About the author(s): Annie-Rose Strasser is a Reporter/Blogger for ThinkProgress. Before joining American Progress, she worked for the community organizing non-profit Center for Community Change as a new media specialist. Previously, Annie-Rose served as a press assistant for Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Annie-Rose holds a B.A. in English and Creative Writing from the George Washington University.
The thoughts of this author are the author’s alone and do no represent those of Workplace Fairness

New Research Meta-Analysis Makes Compelling Case For Nondiscrimination Protections

Tuesday, May 8th, 2012

Our guest blogger is Crosby Burns, Research Associate for LGBT Progress.

Today the Center for American Progress, the Human Rights Campaign, and the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law released a comprehensive database of research documenting the immediate need for federal policies that prohibit discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. This database includes nearly 40 documents totaling 680 pages of research from the ACLU, the Center for American Progress, the Human Rights Campaign, the National Center for Transgender Equality, the National Gay and Lesbian Task ForceFreedom To Work, and the Williams Institute.

The findings of the research contained in this database are consistent and conclusive: LGBT workplace discrimination is a pervasive and persistent problem that requires an immediate solution. Additionally, this research establishes a strong business case for workplace nondiscrimination laws and policies, examines the potential impact of an LGBT nondiscrimination executive order for federal contractors, and highlights strong public and voter support for workplace fairness.

Given these realities, Congress should pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and President Obama should sign an executive order requiring federal contractors to have LGBT-inclusive non-discrimination policies. These actions would bring quick relief to the hundreds of thousands of LGBT workers who face employment discrimination in our country today.

Nondiscrimination-Laws-Map

This blog originally appeared in Think Progress on May 7, 2012. Reprinted with permission.

Federal LGBT Employment Rights On The Move

Thursday, October 1st, 2009

Image: Dr. Jillian T. WeissThere is no federal statute prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. A bill is on the horizon to change that, with a very good chance of passage. The Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2009 (HR3017/S1584), introduced in various forms since 1974, would prohibit job discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It has 179 House co-sponsors and 40 Senate co-sponsors, and many more expected to support the bill.

Despite the arguments of opponents, the bill’s text is unremarkable in many ways. Similar to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the current job discrimination law, it also contains language to deal with issues specific to LGBT workers. As in Title VII, it covers employers with 15 or more employees and most government offices. It prohibits discharge, refusal to hire, and other discrimination based on “sexual orientation” or “gender identity,” as well as discrimination based on association with gay people.

The terms “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” are clearly defined, despite the concerns of opponents. “Sexual orientation” is defined in the bill as “homosexuality, heterosexuality, or bisexuality.” It’s specifically used in distinction to the more ambiguous term “sexual preference.” Opponents argue it could protect pedophiles, base on the false idea that pedophilia is a “sexual preference.” Since the term “sexual preference” is not used, and the term “sexual orientation” is very clearly defined, that argument is incorrect. Unfortunately, this been used as a fear-mongering tactic.

The term “gender identity” is defined as “gender-related identity, appearance, or mannerisms or other gender-related characteristics of an individual, with or without regard to the individual’s designated sex at birth.” This refers to the social, psychological and behavior stereotypes of our sex at birth. It protects workers from discrimination or harassment based on conformity with stereotypes of gender. For example, if someone born male expresses their gender in a manner stereotypically considered feminine, whether it be in mannerisms, appearance or, on the extreme end, identification with the opposite sex as a transsexual, they are protected from dismissal or harassment because of this. In other words, gender is removed as a job performance criterion.

Some are concerned that allowing transsexuals to have jobs will cause a burden on employers by requiring them to build separate shower and dressing facilities for transsexuals. However, the Act does not require employers to permit access to shared shower or dressing facilities where nudity is unavoidable. It specifically disavows the idea that construction of additional facilities are required.

Both terms, “sexual orientation” and “gender identity” have been used in many state and local laws since 1975, and are considered by legal experts to be well-understood in the legal context at this point.

Concerns about a “gay quota,” and a flood of lawsuits are equally unfounded. The Act explicitly bans any preferential treatment or quotas. The government may not require collection of statistics on sexual orientation or gender identity. “Disparate impact” lawsuits, often seen in the Title VII context, are not permitted under ENDA. Such claims are based on the allegation that employer actions have indirectly resulted in a reduced number of LGBT employees. Only the direct harm of “disparate treatment” lawsuits would be permitted.

Religious freedom is also addressed in the bill. The Act does not apply to organizations exempt from the religious discrimination provisions of Title VII. In his testimony at the Congressional hearing on September 23, 2009, Acting EEOC Stuart Ishimura stated his belief that this would exempt such religious organizations not only from penalties for discrimination on the basis of religion, as in Title VII, but also from all penalties under ENDA for any discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

The Act does not apply to members of the Armed Forces, and does not change special rights for veterans. It explicitly states that it will not invalidate other federal, state or local laws.

A hearing was held before the Committee on Labor and Education on September 23, at which many illustrious witnesses testified to the widespread extent of serious harm the current situation has caused for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) employees. The bill is expected to be voted on in the House in the next few weeks, where it is expected to pass. It will then go to the Senate, and a vote is expected there before year-end. President Obama has vowed to sign the bill.

About the Author: Dr. Jillian T. Weiss is Associate Professor of Law and Society at Ramapo College of New Jersey, and has consulted with many organizations on issues of transgender workplace diversity, including Boeing, Harvard and New York City.  She may be reached at jweiss@ramapo.edu

Developments in Workplace Protections for LGBT Employees

Monday, September 22nd, 2008

A significant new frontier in the employment discrimination field is finding ways to protect employees who are fired, denied a promotion, or harassed just for being lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT). Already, 12 states and the District of Columbia prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation as well as gender identity and expression. (Another eight states have legal protections only for sexual orientation discrimination.) Those laws protect not only lesbian, gay, and bisexual employees, but also transgender employees–those whose internal sense of themselves as male or female (their “gender identity”) and/or the way they express that gender identity through their appearance, clothing, or behavior (their “gender expression”) differs from the anatomical sex they were designated at birth.

As described in Phil Duran’s excellent recent blog post, we may see similar protections enacted in federal law in the near future. LGBT advocacy organizations and others are currently lobbying members of Congress to support a version of the proposed Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that would prohibit discrimination based on both sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

In the meantime, though, courts have been increasingly open to claims brought on behalf of LGBT employees who face discrimination, using what may seem like an unexpected theory: sex discrimination. In 1989 the U.S. Supreme Court held, in a case called Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, that federal sex discrimination laws protect employees who are discriminated against because of their perceived failure to conform with gender stereotypes–that is, women who are perceived as too masculine, or men who are perceived as too feminine. Price Waterhouse was a case brought by a woman who was denied a promotion at an accounting firm, despite her excellent performance, because her supervisors considered her too “macho.” They suggested that she ought to “walk more femininely, talk more femininely, dress more femininely, wear make-up, have her hair styled, and wear jewelry.” The Supreme Court held that discrimination based on that kind of gender stereotyping was a form of sex discrimination.

Even though no federal law currently prohibits employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity and expression, some LGBT employees have been able to successfully use gender-stereotyping arguments to bring sex discrimination claims when they are targeted because of their actual or perceived gender nonconformity. For instance, a sex discrimination claim may be viable when a gay man is harassed because of his co-workers’ perception that he is too feminine or when a lesbian is fired because she is seen as too masculine. Sex discrimination cases brought by lesbian, gay, or bisexual employees can be challenging to win, though, because some courts have expressed concern that the gender-stereotyping theory could be used as a back door means of recognizing what are “really” sexual orientation discrimination claims.  Unfairly, even when an LGBT employee is discriminated against because of gender stereotypes, some courts have denied relief simply because the plaintiff is gay or lesbian or because the discrimination appeared to be additionally motivated by anti-gay animus.

Interestingly, courts have been somewhat more receptive to gender-stereotyping claims brought by transgender employees.  In a groundbreaking decision just issued on September 19, 2008, Schroer v. Billington, a Washington, D.C. federal district court found that a transsexual job applicant had been discriminated against based on “sex.”  She had initially applied for the position–and been offered the job–while presenting as a man, but when she informed the employer of her intention to change her sex to female, the employer withdrew the offer.  The court not only found that gender stereotypes played an unlawful role in her hiring, à la Price Waterhouse, but also held that discrimination because a person changes their sex is “literally” sex discrimination – just as discrimination against those who convert from one religion to another would plainly constitute religious discrimination.  While no other court has yet recognized a sex discrimination claim based on transgender status per se, a number of other decisions have upheld sex discrimination claims brought by transgender employees where the employee can show some evidence that stereotypes played a role in the employee’s negative treatment.

The gender stereotyping theory of sex discrimination can provide valuable protection for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender workers who face discrimination because of their perceived gender nonconformity, although some courts still fixate on the employee’s status as LGBT as a justification for denying an otherwise valid sex discrimination claim. That’s why it’s imperative to pass a fully inclusive version of ENDA: to make it clear to everyone, employers and employees alike, that it’s unlawful to mistreat employees because of traits like sexual orientation or gender identity and expression that have absolutely nothing to do with job performance.

About the Author: Ilona Turner is a staff attorney at the National Center for Lesbian Rights, a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.  Prior to law school, she was the lobbyist for Equality California, the state’s leading LGBT political organization, where she helped win the passage of groundbreaking legislation that significantly expanded the rights of domestic partners under California law and prohibited discrimination based on gender identity and expression in employment and housing.  She received her J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley.

Sharing Labor Day with Transgender Workers

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

In 2007, hundreds of gay-rights organizations from across the country signed a statement opposing the first gay-rights bill ever approved by a house of Congress. Why? Because the bill, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), prohibited job discrimination based on sexual orientation, but not discrimination based on gender identity/expression. After the House voted to approve ENDA as written, a House committee held a first-ever hearing on the issue of gender-identity/expression discrimination. It is likely that future ENDA proposals will include both sexual orientation and gender identity/expression as protected characteristics. When that happens, Congress will once again be following the lead that employers from coast to coast have already clearly established in affirming the equal employment rights of their transgender employees.

For purposes of this article, “transgender” is an umbrella term describing people who present to the world a gender identity different from the one they were assigned to at birth. The typical transgender person, in their “mind’s eye,” firmly and sincerely sees their gender in a way that does not match their anatomy; this divergence can appear at a very early age and is not usually thought of as a choice any more than is one’s sexual orientation. Transgender people may or may not attempt to change their bodies (“transition”) to align with this gender expression (those who do are often referred to as “transsexuals”). While most transgender people use the pronouns associated with the gender they present, some avoid the use of traditional, gendered pronouns altogether.

A person who comes out as transgender and changes their gender expression often puts him- or herself at significant risk for rejection, discrimination, harassment, or even violence. There are countless transgender people who, having transitioned later in life, have difficulty finding a fulfilling job even though they have advanced degrees and years of relevant experience – somehow, exchanging pants for a skirt magically negates an MBA and professional accomplishment.

The American workplace is slowly but inexorably recognizing that transgender employees have much to offer, and deserve fair and equitable treatment. Increasingly, labor advocates are leading the way by persuading American employers to amend existing non-discrimination and anti-harassment policies to extend their protection to transgender workers. According to the Human Rights Campaign, 153 of the Fortune 500 companies have taken such a step. Clearly, there is progress yet to be made – and labor advocates are likely to be successful.

Beyond basic non-discrimination/anti-harassment policies, forward-thinking employers are also contemplating issues related to employment benefits. Most fundamentally, does an employer’s health plan, assuming there is one, cover services related to gender transition? These usually fall into three basic categories: counseling, hormones, and surgery. The vast majority of plans that cover mental-health treatment don’t draw a line around gender-identity counseling and attempt to exclude it, nor should they. This is important, because counseling is often the initial step that opens the next doors in the transition process. Some employer plans contain gender-related provisions that specifically exclude surgery, while other go further and also exclude hormones as well. More and more, however, health plans (and related plans, such as short-term disability policies) are eliminating these restrictions as employers realize that covering gender-related care significantly benefits affected employees while adding relatively little to their insurance premium. In June 2008, the American Medical Association issued a statement calling exclusions of gender-related care a form of discrimination. Workplace advocates will continue to press for change in this area, which, in turn, could positively affect the future conversation about universal health care and its scope.

Additional complexities may arise regarding a transgender employee’s partner, and their access to dependent health benefits. For example, if a married male employee transitions to female and adopts a female name, but does not divorce, does the spouse remain the employee’s wife, and therefore the employee’s dependent? Or does the spouse, in effect, become a domestic partner? (Hint: pick door number one.) This matters, because if the dependent is seen as a spouse, the benefits are a tax-free fringe benefit. On the other hand, if the dependent is characterized as a domestic partner, the benefits incur tax liability for the employee and deductions by the employer. On one level, this distinction would be immaterial if not for the tax difference, and here, labor and employers are speaking out together in favor of federal legislation that would treat spousal and partner benefits equally for tax purposes.

Taking back Labor Day means, among other things, sharing Labor Day with transgender workers, and committing oneself to learning about the issues they face, educating others, and advocating for workplace fairness for all.

About the Author: Phil Duran is the Staff Attorney at OutFront Minnesota, the state’s leading advocacy, direct service, and public policy agency for gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender (GLBT) Minnesotans and their allies. His work at OutFront Minnesota focuses on legal information, referral, and education; state legislative research and analysis; state administrative agency and local government public policy; school-related issues; and direct representation in selected public-assistance and human rights matters. Additionally, Duran serves on the board of the Minnesota Lavender Bar Association, which raises GLBT issues within the legal profession in Minnesota. He also is a past member of the executive council of the Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA), and served on the steering committee of the MSBA’s Diversity in the Legal Profession Task Force. He currently serves on the MSBA Diversity Committee, MSBA Task Force on the Rights of Unmarried Couples, and Minnesota Supreme Court’s Gender Fairness Implementation Committee. Phil is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Law School.

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