By Charles Scott & Kraig Klein
As The United States Supreme Court heard three cases relating to LGBTQ+ labor rights on Tuesday October 8th, representatives from Transgender Resource Center Long Island, Pride For Youth and independent members of the LGBTQ+ community expressed their concerns.
The cases –Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda, Bostock v. Clayton County and R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC – all have to do with the right for employers to fire employees based on their gender and sexuality. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the LGBTQ+ community, employers would be forbidden from using gender and sexuality as a reason for firing employees or denying LGBTQ+ individuals jobs.
“I think [the lack of a ban on LGBTQ+ discrimination in hiring] is the stupidest thing,” Sofia Forman, a trans woman from Hauppauge, said. “Let’s put this way: I was not fired from a job for being trans, but I have been prevented from getting a job because I’m trans, and I believe I’m more qualified for these positions than people who actually work there.”
Forman has four college degrees but only recently found a source of steady income from an education job. She believes that she’s been refused jobs in the past because of her gender identity.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bans sex-based discrimination, but whether or not the term “sex” includes gender has yet to be determined. The 1988 Supreme Court case Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins did establish that gender stereotyping is a form of sexual discrimination, but no case has definitely determined whether gender identity is covered by Title VII.
“I think that allowing the… judges to create new definitions of terms may be a win of this battle, and a loss in subsequent wars.” Cornell University law professor David Sherwyn said.
Sherwyn is conflicted about the outcome of the cases around sexual orientation. He’s worried that allowing the court to interpret federal laws protecting people from sex discrimination and gender stereotype discrimination as referring to sexual orientation might open the door to future issues. While he wishes the federal government protected sexual orientation, Sherwyn said that he’s worried about the Supreme Court reinterpreting sex to cover sexual orientation.
New York’s 2003 Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act banned employers from discriminating against LGBTQ+ employees. The law was futher supported by the 2019 Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which bans employers from discriminating based on gender identity. However, federal law has yet to ban discrimination based on gender identity nationwide, and no law bans employers from not hiring LGBTQ+ individuals in the first place.
“Regardless of what happens in the Supreme Court, LGBTQ people in New York are protected,” Noah Lewis, the executive director of the Transcend Legal LGBTQ+ support group, said.
Some LGBTQ+ people in New York worry that a judgement in favor of discrimination could impact their potential to earn a working wage.
“I think that [ruling against the LGBTQ+ defendant’s claims] won’t just create problems for LGBTQ people,” Charlie Woodarrow, a community mobilization coordinator for Pride For Youth, said. “I think it’s going to be used as a stepping stone for opening a Pandora’s box and allowing for sex stereotyping and discrimination that was addressed almost forty years ago by the Supreme Court,”
The cases involve members of the LGBTQ+ community possibly being discriminated against. While Zarda and Bostock feature homosexual men claiming they were fired because of their sexuality, EEOC focuses on a trans woman who alleges she was fired for refusing to identify as a man. If the Supreme Court decides to judge EEOC rules in favor of the trans woman, Aimee Stephens, then gender identity-based discrimination would be deemed unconstitutional and thus outlawed.
One organization,Transgender Resource Center of Long Island (TRCLI), works directly toward LGBTQ+ labor rights.
“We educate businesses. We go in and teach them how to be inclusive. We go to doctor’s offices, teach them how to be inclusive. We’ve done schools, we’ve done counselors.” Mila Madison, the executive director of TRCLI, said.
One Long Islander is still afraid of being discriminated against in the workplace, despite his explicit rights.
“Even though it’s illegal in New York to discriminate against trans people, I worry about it,” Garret Norris, a transgender man from Long Island, said.
Sherwyn estimates that The Supreme Court could take as long as June to make their decision.
Disclosure – Charles Scott is the president of Stony Brook University’s LGBTA.