CRUCIAL CASES: High Court To Deliberate LGBTQ Employment Discrimination.

AuthorHayes, Liz

The U.S. Supreme Court's 2019-20 term begins this month with a blockbuster trio of LGBTQ rights cases.

On Oct. 8--the new term's second day of arguments the court will hear three cases that involve gay and transgender people who were fired from their jobs because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.

The justices will be asked to decide whether the employers who fired the LGBTQ employees violated Title VII of the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964, which protects employees from discrimination on the basis of sex, race, religion and national origin.

In two of these cases, federal courts have already ruled that LGBTQ people are protected by Title VII. In the third case, the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals relied on a 40-year-old, outdated decision that wrongly excluded sexual orientation discrimination from Title VII's protections when it declined to reconsider the case last year.

President Donald Trump's Solicitor General Noel Francisco requested and was granted the opportunity to participate in the oral arguments to support the employers who fired the LGBTQ workers. In a brief filed with the Supreme Court in August, Trump's Department of Justice argued that Title VII doesn't protect transgender people.

The department's brief was the second it has filed in the case R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. The federal government last fall essentially flip-flopped on whether Title VII protects LGBTQ people: The EEOC--also a federal agency--originally prosecuted the case against the funeral home on behalf of Aimee Stephens, an employee of six years who was fired after she came out as transgender and began living publicly as a woman.

The funeral home's owner claimed Stephens' dressing as a woman was violating the business's dress code. He also cited his religiously motivated disapproval of transgender people and, in earlier court proceedings, claimed he had a right to fire Stephens under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

Americans United, in a friend-of-the-court brief that was joined by 76 faith leaders and 13 religious and civil rights organizations, said that was a gross misinterpretation of RFRA, which doesn't give employers the right to use religious beliefs to bypass antidiscrimination laws. On the contrary, doing so would violate the First Amendment by favoring certain religious beliefs and allowing them to cause harm to innocent people who have different beliefs, the brief...

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