LGBT Employment Cases Headed To SCOTUS

Aimee Stephens. Photo credit: charles William Kelly, AcLU

The American Civil Liberties Union has filed two briefs on LGBT employment cases under Supreme Court review.

The cases involve Aimee Stephens, a Michigan transgender woman, and the estate of the late Don Zarda, of New York. Both plaintiffs were fired for coming out at work. 

“As we honor the 50th anniversary of Stonewall and the legacy of the Black and Brown trans women who led and continue to lead our movements, we recognize that our work is far from over,” said James Esseks, director of the ACLU LGBT & HIV Project. “In the courts, in the streets and in the communities around the country we will continue to fight until all LGBTQ people can live without fear of violence or discrimination.”

Stephens was fired from her job as funeral director at R.G. and G.R. Harris Funeral Home. Stephens had worked at the Detroit area funeral home for six years. In a letter to her boss Stephens revealed plans to come out as a woman at work — “for my own peace of mind, and to end the agony in my soul.” Stephens was fired two weeks after giving her boss the letter.

The Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the termination was unlawful sex discrimination, but the funeral home has appealed to the Supreme Court.

Zarda’s estate has a similar story. In 2010, Zarda was fired from his job as a sky diving instructor for coming out as gay. Zarda worked for Long Island, New York-based Altitude Express when he told a female client he was gay in an effort to “mitigate any awkwardness that might arise from the fact that he was strapped tightly” to her. The woman told her boyfriend who complained to the company who then fired Zarda. 

Zarda died in a sky diving accident in Switzerland in 2014. Zarda’s sister Melissa and former partner William Moore have pursued Zarda’s suit against Altitude Express. Earlier this year the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in their favor, saying Zarda’s firing violated Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. The Atlanta-based 11th circuit ruled the other way on this issue, pushing the case to the Supreme Court.

ACLU communications strategist Tyler Richard said a majority of Americans side with his clients.

“It would shock the American public if the Court says that it’s lawful to fire someone for being trans or lesbian, gay or bisexual,” Richard said. “Most Americans, 7 in 10, agree that firing someone for being LGBTQ is wrong and agree with the growing consensus in courts that longstanding federal protections should keep LGBTQ people from the fear of being fired for who they are.”

Amicus briefs on the cases were due July 3, Richard said, adding he expects 50 briefs with powerful voices to join his clients. SFGN has contacted the ACLU of Florida seeking comment.

 


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