The Human Rights Campaign Files Amicus Brief in Support of Texas LGBTQ Workers

by Aryn Fields

The Human Rights Campaign filed a brief as amicus curaie, or “friend of the court,” to the Texas 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. The case, Tarrant County Community College v. Sims, addresses the scope of protections against discrimination for LGBTQ workers under Texas state law. HRC is represented on the brief and in oral argument by Winston & Strawn LLP.

This is the first opportunity for a Texas state appeals court to interpret the Texas Commission on Human Relations Act (TCHRA) after 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.

“The Bostock decision was a landmark moment for equality and cemented non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ employees into federal law—that precedent must also be applied without delay at the state level,” said Alphonso David, Human Rights Campaign President. “At this critical time for our nation, it is vital for LGBTQ people, like their fellow colleagues, to enjoy state-level protections from discrimination in the workplace. Employers embracing diversity and inclusion will benefit their employees, stakeholders, consumers, and community.”

“We are honored to submit this amicus brief on behalf of the trailblazing activists of the Human Rights Campaign to combat discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity through the legal process,” said Winston & Strawn Partner Natalie Arbaugh. “The US Supreme Court's decision in Bostock had enormous implications for expanding protections for LGBTQ people in the workplace and beyond. We are confident the 5th District Court of Appeals will agree with our interpretation that these protections should extend to LGBTQ Texans under state law as well.”

The brief argues 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 brief requests that the Court now recognize that Texas state law provides equivalent protections against discrimination in the workplace.

Currently, Texas is one of 27 states that does not have statewide employment, housing, or education non-discrimination statutes that explicitly include sexual orientation and gender identity. The Tarrant ruling could ensure state level employment protections in Texas for the first time. 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 sexual orientation and gender identity laws, including in Arizona, 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 the 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 brief here and watch a video of the oral argument here.

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