On Tuesday, October 8, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in three cases dealing with workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The landmark Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, a federal law that prohibits employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin and religion; has no specific protection for sexual orientation or gender identity. Just twenty-one states, the District of Columbia, and two territories explicitly prohibit employment discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. Discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation is currently not illegal everywhere else in the U.S. Democrats this year have pushed through the Equality act addressing many of the issues, but the Republican-controlled Senate has not taken up the legislation. In the current cases before the court, the Trump Administration has taken the side away from LGBT rights.
Aimee Stephens was fired from her job as a funeral director in 2013 after she wrote to her employer that she was trans. The funeral home owner testified that Stephens dressed in women’s clothing would be “a distraction that is not appropriate” for grieving families. He also worries that a ruling for Stephens also would prohibit sex-specific sleeping facilities in shelters, as well as showers, restrooms and locker rooms.
The other two cases involved men who were fired from their jobs after coming out as gay. Donald Zarda told a customer he was gay to make her more comfortable with being strapped together. Zarda was fired as a result. Zarda died on October 3, 2014 in Switzerland in a base jumping accident and the case was continued by his family. The other case involved one Gerald Bostock, who saw his 20-year career in child protective services and social work came to an end in 2013 after joining a gay softball league.
The cases, which have attracted national attention, are the first involving LGBT rights since the retirement of Justice Anthony Kennedy, a gay rights advocate and swing vote on many those issues. Citizens began lining up as early as Friday to obtain access to the proceedings. Hundreds crowded the sidewalks and in an act of civil disobedience, dozens of activists were arrested by Capitol Police after blocking traffic along First St. NW. in front of the Supreme Court steps.
View Jeff Malet’s photos of the activity outside the Supreme Court Building by clicking on the photo icons below.