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DOJ: Anti-gay discrimination perfectly OK under federal law

“A roadmap for dismantling years of federal protections”

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The Justice Department under Jeff Sessions rejected gay protections under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. (Photo by Gage Skidmore; courtesy Wikimedia Commons)

The U.S. Justice Department has declared anti-gay discrimination is lawful under current federal civil rights law, filing an friend-of-the-court brief in a case of alleging employment discrimination.

In a 23-page brief, the Justice Department under U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rejects the notion that sexual-orientation discrimination is a form of sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

“The essential element of sex discrimination under Title VII is that employees of one sex must be treated worse than similarly situated employees of the other sex, and sexual orientation discrimination simply does not have that effect,” the brief says. “Moreover, whatever this Court would say about the question were it writing on a blank slate, Congress has made clear through its actions and inactions in this area that Title VII’s prohibition of sex discrimination does not encompass sexual orientation discrimination. Other statutes and rules may prohibit such discrimination, but Title VII does not do so as a matter of law, and whether it should do so as a matter of policy remains a question for Congress to decide.”

The brief is signed by Chad Readler, acting assistant attorney general for the Civil Division; Tom Wheeler, acting assistant attorney general for civil rights; Deputy Assistant Attorney General Hashim Mooppan; and Justice Department attorneys Charles Scarborough and Stephanie Marcus.

The Justice Department brief was expected. Outside sources familiar with the department’s plan informed the Washington Blade earlier this week a brief would be forthcoming in a case alleging anti-gay workplace discrimination before the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals.

However, the Justice Department was expected not only to reject the idea that anti-gay discrimination is covered under Title VII, but also transgender discrimination. The brief ultimately avoids the issue of discrimination based on gender identity, although its reasoning could apply to cases of transgender discrimination.

Although the Justice Department under the Obama administration never took an official view on whether sexual orientation discrimination is prohibited under Title VII, the brief effectively turn a Justice Department that once argued for protections for LGBT people into an institution that seeks to undermine them.

The reasoning in the brief contrasts with the determination of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, the independent agency charged with enforcing federal workplace civil rights laws. In 2015, the EEOC found in the case of Baldwin v. Foxx anti-gay discrimination constitutes sex discrimination under Title VII.

Case law that has determined Title VII bars workplace discrimination against lesbian, gay and bisexual people isn’t well developed, but some courts are reconsidering decisions made in past decades against protections based on sexual orientation.

The Seventh Circuit determined earlier this year in the case of Hively v. Ivy Community College that sexual orientation discrimination constitutes sex discrimination under Title VII, but the Eleventh Circuit came to the opposite view. Lambda Legal is preparing to submit a petition before the U.S. Supreme Court seeking a nationwide affirmation that anti-gay workplace discrimination is barred under current law.

At one point, the Justice Department brief mocks the Seventh Circuit for adopting the reasoning espoused by EEOC that anti-gay discrimination is sexual-orientation discrimination under current law.

“The Seventh Circuit majority in Hively largely adopted the EEOC’s theories,” the brief says. “These theories are inconsistent with Congress’s clear ratification of the overwhelming judicial consensus that Title VII does not prohibit sexual orientation discrimination. And even viewed solely on their own terms, none of these theories is persuasive.”

The brief is filed on the same day President Trump announced on Twitter he’d reinstitute the ban prohibiting openly transgender people from serving in the armed forces. Coupled together, the brief and the president’s tweets span actions enabling discrimination across the entire LGBT community.

The filing is just the view of the Trump administration and has no binding effect. Whether or not anti-gay discrimination will be considered lawful under Title VII is up the Second Circuit.

James Esseks, director of the ACLU’s LGBT and HIV Project, quipped upon review of the brief, “Trump and Sessions together have made it Anti-LGBT Day for the administration.”

“The Sessions-led Justice Department and the Trump administration are actively working to expose people to discrimination,” Esseks added. “Fortunately, courts will decide whether the Civil Rights Act protects LGBT people, not an Attorney General and a White House that are hell-bent on playing politics with people’s lives.”

Sarah Warbelow, legal director for the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement after the brief was filed “attacks against the LGBTQ community at all levels of government” continue to happen under the Trump administration.

“In one fell swoop, Trump’s DOJ has provided a roadmap for dismantling years of federal protections and declared that lesbian, gay, and bisexual people may no longer be protected by landmark civil rights laws such as the Fair Housing Act, Title IX, or Title VII,” Warbelow said. “For over a decade, courts have determined that discrimination on the basis of LGBTQ status is unlawful discrimination under federal law. Today’s filing is a shameful retrenchment of an outmoded interpretation that forfeits faithful interpretation of current law to achieve a politically-driven and legally specious result.”

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Anti-LGBTQ Colorado baker loses Trans birthday cake court case

Phillips violated Colorado’s ant-discrimination law citing the fact that at issue was a ‘product’ not freedom of speech or expression

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Screenshot via CBSN Denver

DENVER – A Colorado State District Court Judge ruled against the baker who had previously refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding and won at the U.S. Supreme Court a partial narrow victory in that case in 2018.

CBSN Denver reported that Denver District Judge A. Bruce Jones order that Jack Phillips violated Colorado’s anti discrimination law Tuesday citing the fact that at issue was a ‘product’ not freedom of speech or expression.

In court documents, Jones said that Phillips refusal to make the plantiff, Autumn Scardina a cake made with blue icing on the outside and pink on the inside to celebrate her gender transition on her birthday because of her transgender status but without a written message, was in violation of the law. Phillips was ordered to pay a $500 fine.

Jones noted in his ruling that Phillips testified during a trial in March that ‘he did not think someone could change their gender’ and he would not celebrate “somebody who thinks that they can.”

“The anti-discrimination laws are intended to ensure that members of our society who have historically been treated unfairly, who have been deprived of even the every-day right to access businesses to buy products, are no longer treated as ‘others,‘” the judge wrote.

The Scottsdale, Arizona based Alliance Defending Freedom, an anti-LGBTQ legal group that has been place on the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Hate Watch List for spreading propaganda and lies about LGBTQ people, told CBSN that the group would appeal Jones’ ruling.

“Radical activists and government officials are targeting artists like Jack because they won’t promote messages on marriage and sexuality that violate their core convictions,” ADF’s general counsel, Kristen Waggoner, said in a media statement.

The maximum fine for each violation of Colorado’s Anti-Discrimination Act is $500. But it was not clear from the ruling if the fine was for the two attempts that Scardina made to order the cake or just one.

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Supreme Court rules for religious agency rejecting LGBTQ families

A key portion of the Roberts decision that could limit its reach is language specific to Philadelphia’s contract with the city

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Blade file photo by Michael Key

WASHINGTON – In a ruling released Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled decided in favor of a religious-affiliated foster care agency seeking to refuse child placement into LGBTQ homes, determining the City of Philadelphia’s enforcement of a contract with non-discrimination provisions violates freedom of religion under the First Amendment.

In a surprise twist, the ruling was unanimous with nine justices on the court agreeing to the result in favor of Catholic Social Services, with Chief Justice John Roberts writing the opinion. As noted by SCOTUSblog, the court seemed much more divided in oral arguments, although inclined to rule for the foster care agency.

“The refusal of Philadelphia to contract with CSS for the provision of foster care services unless the agency agrees to certify same-sex couples as foster parents cannot survive strict scrutiny and violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment,” Roberts writes.

Although Catholic Social Services had also contended a freedom of speech right under the First Amendment to reject same-sex couples, Roberts adds the court didn’t reach a conclusion on that part of the argument.

Marianne Duddy-Burke, executive director of the Catholic LGBTQ group DignityUSA, condemned the decision in a statement immediately after it was handed down.

“Today, the well-being of our country’s most vulnerable children has been sacrificed to preserve tax-payer funded discrimination for a powerful group of religious institutions,” Duddy-Burke said. “The Supreme Court just decreased the number of homes available to our youth in foster care, making what was already a crisis worse. Same-sex couples are seven times more likely than straight couples to adopt or be foster parents and are more likely to have trans-racial families. This ruling means tens of thousands of children may never have a family to love and support them.”

The Supreme Court reversed and remanded decision of the U.S. Third Circuit of Court of Appeals, which had ruled in favor of City of Philadelphia enforcing its contract with Catholic Social Services. Both the appeals courts and the lower trial court had come to the opposite conclusion of the U.S. Supreme Court.

A key portion of the Roberts decision that could limit its reach is language specific to Philadelphia’s contract with the city allowing for discretion on enforcement, which he says means the measure isn’t generally applicable measure.

“Section 3.21 of the contract requires an agency to provide services defined in the contract to prospective foster parents without regard to their sexual orientation,” Roberts writes. “But section 3.21 also permits exceptions to this requirement at the ‘sole discretion’ of the Commissioner. This inclusion of a mechanism for entirely discretionary exceptions renders the non-discrimination provision not generally applicable.”

David Flugman, a lawyer at the New York-based Selendy & Gay PLLC whose practice includes LGBTQ rights, said in a statement the technical nature of the Fulton is “sure to invite even more litigation.

“Today the Supreme Court held, on narrow, technical grounds, that the City of Philadelphia’s attempt to ensure that Catholic Charities abide by the same non-discrimination provisions applicable to all other city contractors could not withstand Catholic Charities’ religious right to refuse to screen loving same-sex couples to act as foster parents,” Flugman writes. “The Court did not take up Catholic Charities’ invitation to scuttle the 30 year-old test for free exercise claims that was announced in Smith v. Employment Division, which held that a neutral law of general applicability could survive even if it burdens religious practice.”

Notably, although the City of Philadelphia in addition to the contract it struck with Catholic Social Services has in a place LGBTQ non-discrimination ordinance, the Supreme Court determines that measure doesn’t apply in the context of foster care services because it’s limited to the services “made available to the public.”

“Certification is not ‘made available to the public’ in the usual sense of the words,” Roberts writes. “Certification as a foster parent is not readily accessible to the public; the process involves a customized and selective assessment that bears little resemblance to staying in a hotel, eating at a restaurant, or riding a bus.”

Fatima Goss Graves, CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, said in a statement the decision from the Supreme Court is a harmful loss to the children in the foster care system in Philadelphia as well as the countless LGBTQ parents.”

“Weakening the government’s ability to protect their civil rights is hardly in their best interest, and we’re committed to ensuring this loophole is not stretched to further justify hatred or prejudice,” Graves added. “We must protect the right of every person to live without fear of discrimination because of who they are or who they love, and we must hold that value particularly close when it comes to the best interest of LGBTQ youth and the families who love them.” 

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U.S. Senate to consider apology for past anti-LGBTQ discrimination

Report shows 70-year history of gov’t persecution, purges of ‘sex deviates’

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Pioneering activist Frank Kameny, who was fired from his government job for being gay, received an apology from the government decades later, but that apology did not extend to the thousands of other LGBT Americans persecuted by their government. (Blade file photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) and Tim Kaine (D-Va.) are preparing to introduce a first-ever resolution calling on the Senate to acknowledge and apologize for the federal government’s discrimination against LGBTQ federal workers and members of the military over a period of at least 70 years.

The two senators have agreed to introduce the proposed resolution at the request of the Mattachine Society of Washington, D.C., an LGBTQ group that specializes in archival research into the federal government’s decades-long policy of banning LGBTQ people from working in federal jobs and serving in the U.S. military and purging them when found to be in those positions.

The Mattachine Society, in partnership with the international law firm McDermott Will & Emery, prepared a 28-page white paper reporting in extensive detail the U.S. government’s history of what it calls discrimination and persecution of LGBTQ federal workers and LGBTQ military service members.
The white paper is entitled, “America’s Promise of Reconciliation and Redemption: The Need for an Official Acknowledgement and Apology for the Historic Government Assault on LGBT Federal Employees and Military Personnel.”

In a statement, the Mattachine Society says the paper is the product of a two-year research project involving a team of five attorneys with the McDermott Will & Emery firm and Mattachine Society.

“Over many decades, the United States government, led by teams within the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), the Office of Personnel Management (OPM), and nearly every agency and branch of government, began the process of investigating, harassing, interrogating, court-martialing, terminating, hospitalizing, and, in some cases, criminally prosecuting LGBT Americans for no other reason than their sexual orientation or gender expression,” the paper says.

“This wholesale purging left tens of thousands in financial ruin, without jobs, with personal lives destroyed, and, in many cases, completely estranged from their own families,” the paper states.

“A straightforward acknowledgement of the mistreatment of these military and civilian employees and an official apology is overdue,” the paper continues. “Both the Congress and the Executive Branch were complicit in this pervasive mistreatment of LGBT citizens.”

The paper points out that over the past 30 years Congress has officially acknowledged and apologized on six different occasions for U.S. mistreatment of other marginalized groups.

Among the subject areas of those apologies were the enslavement of African Americans, the failure to enforce anti-lynching laws to protect African Americans, the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the mistreatment of Native Hawaiians, the mistreatment of Native Americans, and government polices of exclusion of Chinese immigrants.

The paper says the time has come for the federal government to issue its own “acknowledgement and apology” to the LGBT community by following the precedent established by Congress with respect to apologies to the other marginalized groups.

Jeff Trammell, a Mattachine Society board member who led the project to prepare the white paper, said Baldwin and Kaine were in the process of lining up other senators to sign on as co-sponsors of the resolution.

Baldwin is the Senate’s only out lesbian member. Kaine is a longtime supporter of LGBTQ rights.
Trammell said Mattachine of Washington considers the Senate resolution the first step in an ongoing effort to obtain a similar resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives and a possible similar statement of acknowledgement and apology from the executive branch, including the Biden administration.

He said he and the resolution’s supporters were hopeful that most senators, including Republicans, would view it as non-controversial and as a nonpartisan measure because it seeks only the acknowledgement of historical facts. Trammell noted that unlike other resolutions of apology pertaining to other minorities approved by Congress in the past, the LGBT apology resolution does not call for any financial reparations.

The eight-page proposed resolution addresses that question by stating, “Nothing in this resolution…authorizes or supports any claim against the United States or serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.”

Trammell noted that under the Obama administration, John Berry, the director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, issued an official government apology for the firing of D.C. gay rights pioneer Frank Kameny from his government job in the late 1950s. But Trammell said the apology to Kameny, which was considered important and groundbreaking, did not extend to the thousands of other LGBTQ employees fired or harassed in the years before and after Kameny’s firing.

The white paper also points out that at least seven U.S. allied nations have issued apologies for past mistreatment of their own LGBTQ citizens. Among them are Spain, Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, Brazil, and The Netherlands.

“We believe the time has come to understand and acknowledge the historical animus that LGBT federal employees and military personnel faced for generations from their own government to ensure it can never happen again,” Trammell said.

The white paper can be accessed here.

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