The attorneys general of 17 states and the District of Columbia have filed an amicus brief urging the U.S. Supreme Court to hear and rule in the case of a Georgia lesbian who claims her former employer discriminated against her on the basis of sex.
The brief, filed by New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, asks the court to decide, once and for all, whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protects LGBTQ individuals from workplace discrimination. The attorneys general argue that Title VII’s prohibitions on “discrimination based on sex” should be interpreted as applying to instances where people have been mistreated, harassed, or fired because of their sexual orientation.
The brief also argues that the states “share strong interests” in ending instances of employment discrimination, both in states without laws explicitly protecting LGBTQ people, and in states with such laws, where federal employees, or residents who work in another state lacking those laws, still remain unprotected.
“It’s unacceptable for an employee to be discriminated against based on sexual orientation — and it’s high time that’s clear across the country,” Schneiderman said in a press release. “Who a person loves has nothing to do with their ability to do their job. We’ll continue to make clear that discrimination has no place here or anywhere.”
Locally, Maryland AG Brian Frosh, D.C. AG Karl Racine, and Virginia AG Mark Herring are all in agreement with the arguments put forth by the brief. Other states signing on include California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington.
“The District has long outlawed all forms of discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity, and LGBTQ workers need assurance that they enjoy the same protections nationwide,” Racine said in a statement. “Discrimination is morally reprehensible and socially destructive, and we need a clear federal standard in opposition to employment discrimination of all kinds.”
The case revolves around a claim by Jameka Evans, a former security guard at Georgia Regional Hospital in Savannah, who claims she was discriminated against not simply because of her sexual orientation, but because of her refusal to conform to gender stereotypes, in terms of both appearance and behavior. Federal courts, including the Supreme Court, have previously held that discrimination based on failing to adhere to gender norms is prohibited under Title VII.
“We are grateful that so many attorneys general have joined the mighty chorus calling for the Supreme Court to review Jameka’s case and protect LGBT people from discrimination at work,” Greg Nevins, the Employment Fairness Project Director for Lambda Legal, said in a statement. “Just like the patchwork of state laws concerning marriage equality before the Supreme Court’s historic decision in Obergefell, having rights as a gay employee in the state where you live can still leave you unprotected if your job is right across the boundary in a state where there are no protections. Title VII plays a crucial complementary role by covering individuals not subject to a state’s laws.”
Several federal courts have previously ruled in favor of LGBTQ plaintiffs who have sued under Title VII. Notably, the full 7th Circuit Court of Appeals overruled four of its precedents to find that an adjunct professor at a community college was discriminated against on the basis of sex when the college refused to give her promotions or grant her tenure because she was in a relationship with a woman. A similar argument was made in a case yet to be ruled upon by the full 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, in which a now deceased New York skydiving instructor was fired from his job because he was gay.
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