Supreme Court Hears Oral Arguments for Applicability of Civil Rights Laws to LGBT Workers

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WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court heard oral arguments Tuesday on behalf of three employees who argue that they lost their jobs because they are gay or transgender.

The court will determine whether LGBTQIA+ workers are covered by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which bans sex discrimination in employment.

The Japanese American Citizens League joined an amicus brief with 57 other civil rights organizations, including National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development, National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance, and Sikh Coalition.

Rep. Mark Takano (D-Riverside), the first openly gay person of color elected to Congress, said via Twitter, “Being LGBTQ is NOT a fireable offense, and the Supreme Court needs to affirm that. To the fighters rising up and speaking out for our rights this morning at SCOTUS: I am with you. LGBTQ+ people are deserving of full civil rights protections everywhere in America.”

Actor and activist George Takei tweeted, “The stakes at SCOTUS today could not be higher. Companies should not have a right to discriminate – I stand with LGBTQ employees now and always.”

He later added, “Waiting to find out what basic rights might be stripped away from you and your community by this administration or Supreme Court is so America 2019.”

In a statement on Tuesday, James Esseks, director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & HIV Project, outlined the issues: “Today, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in three cases in which the Trump Administration is urging the court to rule that it’s legal to fire workers for being LGBTQ.

“For the LGBTQ civil rights movement, this is a big moment. These cases will affect more people than the Supreme Court’s decision about the freedom to marry, and they potentially implicate a broader range of contexts in which LGBTQ people may face harm, if the court green-lights discrimination.

“Worse still, a bad ruling would strip away protections against discrimination that LGBTQ people have been able to use to protect themselves for two decades. And all this in a context where nearly one in three transgender people has experienced discrimination in the workplace.

“In short, the stakes are very high.

“One of the cases is about the rights of transgender people and involves Aimee Stephens, who worked for nearly six years as a funeral director at a funeral home near Detroit. Earlier in her life, Aimee had considered going into the ministry, but then found her calling in funeral services, where she could help comfort people in a time of great need. Her employer knew her as a man, but Aimee knew from five years old that she was female.

“After decades of hiding who she really was, Aimee could bear it no more, realizing that the only way to live was as her true self. She gathered the strength to come out to her family, friends, and co-workers as a woman. When she introduced herself as Aimee to her boss, he fired her. He made no pretense about any performance reason; he openly admitted that it was because she is transgender, saying, ‘This isn’t going to work out.’

“The other two cases both involve men who were fired because they are gay. In one case, Gerald Bostock was fired from his job as a social worker for at-risk youth after his employer found out he was gay. The third case involves Don Zarda, who worked as an instructor for a skydiving outfit on Long Island, New York.

“Don had become hooked on skydiving years earlier, and it evolved from being his passion to being his profession as well. He loved introducing others to the sport. Don often took customers on tandem jumps, where they are strapped to him shoulder-to-shoulder and hip-to-hip before they jump from the plane. One day, Don told a female customer that he was gay in an effort to make her less uncomfortable with how close they were physically. He thought nothing of the remark, but his boss later fired him for sharing ‘inappropriate information’ with a customer.

“When Don called his sister Melissa to tell her he’d been fired, her first reaction was surprise and disbelief. ‘It’s not legal to fire you because you’re gay,’ she told him. And she’s right. Lower courts in both Don’s and Aimee’s cases ruled that their firings violate federal civil rights law, because the employers treated them differently because of their sex.

“After all, the courts reasoned, if Aimee had been assigned a female sex at birth, her employer would not have fired her for being and living as the woman she is. And if Don had been a woman attracted to men, as opposed to a man attracted to men, he would not have been fired for sharing that information with a customer.

“Big picture: it’s hard to see how firing someone for being LGBTQ doesn’t involve the person’s sex. You can’t even describe being trans or gay without talking about the individuals’ sex. At its core, the federal ban on sex discrimination is simple: workers are not supposed to be treated differently because of their sex.”

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