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BREAKING: SCOTUS to Hear Three Major LGBTQ Civil Rights Cases

April 22, 2019
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WASHINGTON — Today, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer (LGBTQ) civil rights organization, responded to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to grant review in three cases that could decide whether federal nondiscrimination laws apply to LGBTQ people. Today, the court announced it will take up the cases of R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC and Aimee Stephens and Bostock v. Clayton County, consolidated with Altitude Express, Inc. v. Zarda.

Several federal courts have ruled that anti-LGBTQ discrimination is a form of sex discrimination that violates federal law. These courts have found that discrimination against LGBTQ people violates laws including Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. The Trump-Pence administration, however, has recently threatened to redefine federal sex discrimination through regulations attempting to erase protections for transgender people, and has asked the Supreme Court to reverse course and bar LGBTQ people from receiving federal nondiscrimination protections. The Supreme Court’s decision in these cases could effectively decide whether to solidify or take away non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ people under federal civil rights laws — which prohibit sex discrimination in contexts ranging from employment to housing, healthcare, and education.

“No one should be denied a job or fired simply because of who they are or who they love, including LGBTQ people,” said Sarah Warbelow, HRC Legal Director. “The growing legal consensus is that our nation’s civil rights laws do protect LGBTQ people against discrimination under sex nondiscrimination laws. The Supreme Court has an opportunity to clarify this area of law to ensure protections for LGBTQ people in many important areas of life. The impact of this decision will have very real consequences for millions of LGBTQ people across the country. Regardless of the eventual outcome, it’s critical that Congress pass the Equality Act to address the significant gaps in federal civil rights laws and improve protections for everyone.”

In R.G. & G.R. HARRIS FUNERAL HOMES v. EEOC and AIMEE STEPHENS, Aimee Stephens worked as a funeral director at R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes. When she informed the funeral home’s owner that she is transgender and planned to come to work as the woman she is, the business owner fired her, saying it would be "unacceptable" for her to appear and behave as a woman. The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in March 2018 that when the funeral home fired her for being transgender and departing from sex stereotypes, it violated Title VII, the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in employment.

In ALTITUDE EXPRESS INC. v. ZARDA, Donald Zarda, a skydiving instructor, was fired from his job because of his sexual orientation. A federal trial court rejected his discrimination claim, saying that the Civil Rights Act does not protect him from losing his job for being a gay man. In February 2018, the full Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that discrimination based on sexual orientation is a form of discrimination based on sex that is prohibited under Title VII. The court recognized that when a lesbian, gay, or bisexual person is treated differently because of discomfort or disapproval that they are attracted to people of the same sex, that’s discrimination based on sex.

In BOSTOCK v. CLAYTON COUNTY, Gerald Lynn Bostock was fired from his job as a county child welfare services coordinator when his employer learned he is gay. In May 2018, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals refused to reconsider a 1979 decision wrongly excluding sexual orientation discrimination from coverage under Title VII’s ban on sex discrimination, and denied his appeal.

While the Supreme Court prepares to hear these cases, Congress could act immediately to pass the Equality Act -- which would provide clear, comprehensive protections for LGBTQ people across key areas of life, including employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally-funded programs and jury service. Reintroduced in Congress in March, the bipartisan legislation has growing, unprecedented support, including from nearly 70 percent of Americans, hundreds of members of Congress, more than 190 major businesses and more than 350 social justice, religious, medical and child welfare organizations. House Leadership has made it a priority to pass the Equality Act this spring.

Recent polling finds that a growing majority of Americans support the federal non-discrimination protections contained in the Equality Act. A recent survey by PRRI found that nearly seven in 10 Americans support laws like the Equality Act, including majorities in every single state and majorities of Republicans, Independents and Democrats alike.

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people. HRC envisions a world where LGBTQ people are embraced as full members of society at home, at work and in every community.

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