Major corporations seek ruling saying federal nondiscrimination law covers sexual orientation.
By Jessica Greeks
WASHINGTON — Some of America’s most well-known companies are urging the Supreme Court to rule that a federal employment discrimination law prohibits discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation, a position opposite of the one taken by the Trump administration.
The 76 businesses and organizations — including American Airlines, Apple, eBay, Facebook, Google, Starbucks and Microsoft — filed a brief Wednesday encouraging the high court to take up the issue. They want the court to take a case out of Georgia in which a gay woman who worked as a hospital security officer says she was harassed and punished for dressing in a male uniform and wearing her hair short. Jameka Evans, who worked at Georgia Regional Hospital at Savannah from 2012 to 2013, ultimately left her job and sued.
The question in her case is whether a federal law barring workplace discrimination “because of…sex” covers discrimination against someone because of their sexual orientation. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission under President Barack Obama took the view that it does. But President Donald Trump’s administration has argued that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars discrimination based on gender but doesn’t cover sexual orientation.
The businesses’ court filing says they and their employees would benefit if the court agreed to take the case and rule that Title VII covers sexual orientation discrimination.
“Businesses’ first-hand experiences—supported by extensive social-science research—confirm the significant costs for employers and employees when sexual orientation discrimination is not forbidden by a uniform law, even where other policies exist against such discrimination,” the businesses wrote in their brief. The organizations that joined the brief also include two sports teams, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Miami Heat.
The case out of Georgia is not unique. Most federal appeals courts in the past have ruled that “sex” means biological gender, not sexual orientation. But a federal appeals court in Chicago, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit, ruled earlier this year that the law covers sexual orientation. In that case, a gay part-time community college instructor sued after she was repeatedly turned down for a full-time job and her part-time contract was not renewed.
The New York-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit is also weighing the issue. Last month, the full court heard arguments in a case in which a skydiving instructor, Donald Zarda, claimed he was fired from his job after telling a client he was gay. He sued under the Civil Rights Act, but previous rulings have gone against Zarda, who died in an accident in Switzerland three years ago. A ruling in his case isn’t expected for some time.