Meet a Texan in the Middle of the Case
Austin, TX (October 3, 2019) – Today Equality Texas hosted a briefing featuring legal experts, advocates, and business leaders about the importance of three LGBTQ discrimination cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. On October 8 the U.S. Supreme Court will consider how Title VII’s ban on workplace sex discrimination protects LGBTQ people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.
The briefing featured Angela Hale, Acting CEO of Equality Texas; Jon Davidson, Legal Counsel of Freedom for All Americans; Bill Moore, former partner of the plaintiff in one of the cases, Zarda v. Altitude Express; and Jessica Shortall, Managing Director of Texas Competes.
“The Supreme Court has the opportunity to affirm that all LGBTQ people should be judged on their work ethic and performance, just like everyone else in the workplace, and not fear losing their job just because they are gay or transgender. The majority of Texans in every region, religion, and major ethnic group support nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ Texans. No matter how the Supreme Court rules, we must ensure that all Texans are protected and free to live, work, and contribute to their communities, ” said Angela Hale, the acting CEO of Equality Texas, the largest statewide advocacy organization pushing for LGBTQ equality.
“The three cases the Supreme Court is about to hear are the most consequential cases for LGBTQ people since the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality. The stakes for our community could not be higher” said Jon Davidson, Legal Counsel for Freedom for All Americans (FFAA), the bipartisan campaign to win federal nondiscrimination protections. “In these cases, the Court has the chance to affirm — or deny — that all LGBTQ people should be able to work hard and support themselves and their families without fear of harassment or discrimination at work. And regardless of whether we win or lose at the Court, Congress will need to act to pass the Equality Act, which will ensure express and enduring protections for LGBTQ people in all public spaces.”
“Don’s case has the potential to affirm key protections for LGBTQ people nationwide, and there is so much at stake. It’s critical that we win this landmark case — and then, we have to keep pushing forward.” said Bill Moore, former partner of Donald Zarda, the plaintiff of Zarda v. Altitude Express. “While many states in recent years have passed comprehensive, LGBTQ-inclusive nondiscrimination protections, a majority have not yet done so — including Texas, where I live. We need to pass these legislative protections both here in Texas, and at the federal level. Without those protections, regardless of how the Court rules, LGBTQ people in Texas and beyond will remain vulnerable to discrimination in public places like restaurants, stores, or hotels.”
”While this is first and foremost a human issue, it is also very clearly an issue of economic competitiveness,” said Jessica Shortall, Managing Director of Texas Competes. “That’s why 206 major businesses — many with operations and employees in Texas — signed a ‘friend of the court’ brief urging the Court to uphold the precedents set by multiple federal courts and agencies. Job creators know that ending workplace discrimination is good for businesses and for the economy. Individual workplace nondiscrimination policies are no substitute for the law, and in a dynamic economy with a mobile workforce, employers value consistency and predictability in employment nondiscrimination protections.”
Details about the three cases are below. Equality Texas will provide a link to the recorded briefing on request.
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, it violated Title VII — the federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in employment. Aimee was the same capable employee before and after her transition, but she was fired because she took steps to be the woman she is. That’s sex discrimination.
Donald Zarda, a skydiving instructor, was fired from his job for being gay. 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. Tragically, in October 2014, Zarda died unexpectedly, but the case continues on behalf of his family. 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.
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 an outdated 1979 decision wrongly excluding sexual orientation discrimination from coverage under Title VII’s ban on sex discrimination and denied his appeal.
The U.S. Supreme Court will hear argument on all three cases on October 8, 2019. A decision is expected by June 2020.
Equality Texas is the largest statewide organization working to secure full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer Texans through political action, education, community organizing, and collaboration. The Equality Texas Foundation works to secure full equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Texans through education, community organizing, and collaboration.