A group of 76 US companies, including major tech players like Apple, Google, Microsoft, and Viacom, submitted a brief to the Supreme Court asking it to weigh in on whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sex, also protects LGBT employees, Reuters reports:
The companies asked the Supreme Court to take up the case of Jameka Evans, a former security guard at a Georgia hospital who says she was harassed and forced to quit her job because she is gay. The companies said the lack of a federal law clearly prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation has hindered recruitment in the 27 states that have not adopted their own such laws.
And “the uncertainty and vulnerability LGBT workers face results in diminished employee health, productivity, job engagement, and satisfaction,” wrote the companies’ lawyers at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan.
In March, a three-judge panel from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta ruled against Evans in an appeal filed on her behalf by the LGBT legal advocacy organization Lambda Legal, dismissing her claim on the basis of a circuit court precedent from 1979. Lambda petitioned the full court to rehear Evans’ case, but it declined to do so in July, so the group took the case to the Supreme Court last month.
Different circuit courts have handed down contradictory opinions on this issue, so the high court is likely to take it up at some point in the near future, as it often does when federal judges split on a question of federal law.
Whereas the 11th circuit was not receptive to Evans’ claim that her harassment and dismissal violated her Title VII rights, other courts have seen things differently: Last November, a district judge denied a petition to dismiss a lawsuit brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of a gay male employee who was driven to quit by harassment based on his sexual orientation, driving him to quit.
That judge was the first to uphold the EEOC’s reasoning that Title VII encompasses discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, but the bigger victory for the EEOC came in April, when the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago also accepted its argument, overturning the dismissal of another LGBT discrimination suit by a three-judge panel last summer. The Second Circuit, based in New York, is currently considering a similar case, and 50 employers urged that court to protect LGBT employees in a brief filed in June, including many of the same companies who addressed the Supreme Court this week.
Since President Donald Trump took office in January, the federal government has switched sides in this debate. While the EEOC still contends that LGBT employees are protected by the Civil Rights Act, the Justice Department filed a brief in the Second Circuit case in July, arguing that Title VII only applies if men and women are treated unequally. LGBT rights advocates have also criticized Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s recent guidance to federal agencies regarding religious freedom as giving employers carte blanche to discriminate against LGBT people.