Supreme Court taking up LGBTQ employee rights: What you need to know

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The Supreme Court today will hear three cases regarding LGBTQ employee rights.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal for employers to discriminate on the basis of sex, among other things. The Court will decide whether the law extends to cover sexual orientation and gender identity.

  • Jason Carr hosted a live discussion this morning:

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Posted by WDIV Local 4 / ClickOnDetroit on Tuesday, October 8, 2019

Here are the key points:

Supreme Court taking up LGBTQ rights

  • The Supreme Court will decide whether LGBTQ employees are covered by existing discrimination laws.
    • Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 makes it illegal for employers to discriminate based on race, color, national origin, religion and sex.
    • Lower courts have remained divided on whether the law covers sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • The Court will be asked to interpret the word "sex" in Title VII, and whether is covers sexual orientation and gender identity.
  • Three arguments will be made to the Court:
    • That people fired for their sexual orientation are being discriminated against because of their sex. For example: if a gay man fired for being attracted to men was instead a woman, they would not have been fired for being attracted to men.
    • That LGBTQ people who are fired for their identities are actually being fired for failing to live up to gender stereotypes.
    • That fired gay, lesbian and bisexual people are being discriminated against because of the sex of the people with whom they romantically and/or sexually associate.
  • The Trump Justice Department has argued that Title VII never meant to protect LGBTQ people.
    • " The ordinary meaning of 'sex' is biologically male or female. It does not include sexual orientation, " the federal government's legal brief says.

The Court will hear arguments in three cases

  • R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC & Aimee Stephens
    • Aimee Stephens worked for nearly six years as a funeral director at R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes in Detroit when she informed the funeral home's owner that she is a transgender woman.
    • Stephens was fired and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission sued on her behalf.
    • The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the funeral home engaged in unlawful sex discrimination when it fired Stephens over her gender identity.
  • Bostock v. Clayton County, Georgia
    • Gerald Bostock spent a decade building a government program to help neglected children in Clayton County, Georgia.
    • After Bostock decided to join a gay recreational softball league, the county fired him for "conduct unbecoming a county employee."
    • Bostock believes he was fired for being gay. He says that after he joined the softball league and started being more open about his sexual orientation, he received negative comments about his sexual orientation and was criticized for recruiting volunteers for his program from the Atlanta gay community.
    • Bostock's boss said he was fired for misusing county funds, which Bostock denies.
    • Clayton County insists that Title VII allows it to fire workers for being gay.
    • The Supreme Court will decide whether Bostock is entitled to make his case to a jury.
  • Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda
    • Don Zarda worked as a skydiving instructor at Altitude Express on Long Island.
    • While conducting a tandem skydive with a woman in 2010, he mentioned he was gay to assuage any concern she had about being strapped to him and in close physical contact.
    • The woman complained to Zarda's employer who fired him for being gay.
    • Don died in 2014, but his surviving partner, Bill Moore, and his sister, Melissa Zarda, have continued the lawsuit on his behalf.

How will the court decide?

  • The Court is currently made up of five conservative Justices and four liberals.
  • Three of the five conservatives—Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and Samuel Alito—ruled against same-sex marriage in 2015.
  • The other two conservatives—Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh—have yet to rule on any issues involving LGBTQ rights.
  • A ruling for the employees would mean that LGBTQ people will be protected from discrimination at work and possibly beyond.
    • Laws in housing and education also protect against sex discrimination, and a case would easily be made that the ruling extends to these other contexts.
  • A ruling against the employees would possibly gut existing protections against LGBTQ people and set a precedent for approval of bigotry against LGBTQ people.

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