Texas Appeals Court Ruling Ensures State-Level Protections for LGBTQ Employees

by Aryn Fields

Today, Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, responded to the news that the Texas 5th District Court of Appeals ruled in Tarrant County Community College v. Sims, that Texas’s state law prohibiting employment discrimination on the basis of sex also provides protections against discrimination for LGBTQ workers. The favorable decision provides state-level protections for LGBTQ workers for the first time under Texas state law.

The Texas appeals court’s opinion included language that interprets the Texas Commission on Human Relations Act (TCHRA) consistent with the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision Bostock v. Clayton County that determined discrimination against employees on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity is a form of sex discrimination prohibited by federal law.

Today, we celebrate this landmark decision alongside the Texas LGBTQ community—who, for far too long, have had to enter the workplace in fear of facing discrimination for who they are. I applaud the plaintiff, Amber Sims, for her bravery and our legal partners for their impressive work. Let this ruling stand as a beacon of hope to the other states in the United States that are still fighting for basic state-wide non-discrimination protections. Despite this victory, the LGBTQ community, particularly transgender people, continue to face a barrage of dangerous and discriminatory legislation from state houses across the country. The Human Rights Campaign will continue to deploy our resources to combat these bills so every LGBTQ person can live freely and openly, enjoying life at its fullest without fear of discrimination."

Alphonso David, President of The Human Rights Campaign

“The Texas 5th District Court of Appeals made the right decision today—legally and morally. It has been an honor to work on this case and fight on behalf of LGBTQ Texans,” said Jason N. Smith, Lead Attorney for Plaintiff Amber Sims. “It’s an honor to represent someone as courageous as Amanda Sims, whose stand against discrimination has resulted in statewide employment protections for LGBTQ Texans.”

“We are proud to have worked alongside the dedicated litigation team at The Human Rights Campaign throughout the duration of this appeals process and could not be more satisfied with the court’s opinion,” said Natalie Arbaugh, Partner at Winston & Strawn. “The law is clear—the Bostock ruling must be applied in every state without explicit non-discrimination statutes, just as it was today in Texas.”

In January, The Human Rights Campaign filed a brief as amicus curiae, or “friend of the court,” on behalf of the plaintiff. The brief argued that Texas state law is clear — the U.S. Supreme Court’s interpretations of Title VII apply to analogous provisions in the TCHRA. Last June, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Bostock that Title VII’s prohibition on sex discrimination includes discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The Human Rights Campaign was represented on the amicus brief and in oral argument by Winston & Strawn LLP.

Before the ruling, Texas was one of 27 states that did not have statewide employment non-discrimination statutes that explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity. State attorneys general and state civil rights commissions have also implemented the Bostock decision to state civil rights laws across the country—particularly in states that lack explicit sexual orientation and gender identity laws, including in Arizona, Florida, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania.

For many years, HRC has partnered with legal and civil rights groups to advocate for civil rights in the courts. Now, through its Impact Litigation Initiative, HRC has expanded its legal footprint to include strategic impact litigation in domestic and international courts. Working with the world’s top law firms, HRC is pursuing strategic cases and using the courts to hold accountable entities and governments who target the LGBTQ community with discriminatory laws and policies.

Read the court’s full opinion here.

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