Rul­ing could bring change to Florida

LGBTQ lead­ers call on De­San­tis to act against work­place dis­crim­i­na­tion

Orlando Sentinel - - Front Page - By Kate San­tich

A wa­ter­shed U.S. Supreme Court rul­ing on Mon­day de­clared dis­crim­i­na­tion against gay and trans­gen­der work­ers il­le­gal, sig­nal­ing what Florida ad­vo­cates hope will be a tip­ping point af­ter a decade of state law­mak­ers block­ing ef­forts to pro­hibit such in­tol­er­ance.

The state’s LGBTQ civil rights lead­ers likened the mag­ni­tude of the de­ci­sion to the court’s mar­riage equal­ity rul­ing in 2015 and called on Gov. Ron De­San­tis to act by ex­ec­u­tive or­der to out­law work­place dis­crim­i­na­tion in Florida.

“This is a tall, cool drink of wa­ter in the midst of the dif­fi­cult work for eq­uity and jus­tice in Amer­ica,” said Na­dine Smith, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Equal­ity Florida, the statewide LGBTQ civil rights or­ga­ni­za­tion. “The U.S Supreme Court has af­firmed in the clear­est lan­guage pos­si­ble that sex dis­crim­i­na­tion in­cludes sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and gen­der iden­tity. And, now, it’s time for Florida to make ex­plicit those pro­tec­tions in our state statutes.”

The Supreme Court voted 6-3, rul­ing that a key pro­vi­sion of the 1964 Civil Rights Act — known as Ti­tle VII — that makes it il­le­gal to fire or refuse to hire a worker on the ba­sis of sex also ap­plies to sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and gen­der iden­tity.

Jus­tice Neil Gor­such and Chief Jus­tice John Roberts Jr. joined lib­eral jus­tices Ruth Bader Gins­burg, Stephen Breyer, So­nia So­tomayor and Elena Ka­gan in the 6 to 3 rul­ing. Clarence Thomas, Sa­muel Al­ito Jr. and Brett Ka­vanaugh dis­sented.

Given the court’s con­ser­va­tive ma­jor­ity, in­clud­ing two ap­point­ments by Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, the rul­ing sur­prised some ob­servers.

“An em­ployer who fires an in­di­vid­ual for be­ing ho­mo­sex­ual or trans­gen­der fires that per­son for traits or ac­tions it would not have ques­tioned in mem­bers of a dif­fer­ent sex,” wrote Gor­such, Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s first nom­i­nee to the Supreme Court. “Sex plays a nec­es­sary and undis­guis­able role in the de­ci­sion, ex­actly what Ti­tle VII for­bids.”

Ad­vo­cates con­tend the rul­ing is par­tic­u­larly sig­nif­i­cant be­cause of its word­ing, which they said will open the door to other rights for the les­bian, gay, bi­sex­ual, trans­gen­der and queer com­mu­nity.

“The court has de­ci­sively said that anti-LGBTQ dis­crim­i­na­tion is sex dis­crim­i­na­tion, and the im­pli­ca­tions for that are broad and they go be­yond even em­ploy­ment,” said Florida Rep. Car­los Guillermo Smith, D-Or­lando. “We also have to make sure we ex­tend those pro­tec­tions in other cat­e­gories, such as hous­ing, pub­lic ac­com­mo­da­tions, even health care.”

Mon­day’s rul­ing comes just three days af­ter the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion rolled back Oba­maera nondis­crim­i­na­tion pro­tec­tions for LGBTQ peo­ple when it

“This is a tall, cool drink of wa­ter in the midst of the dif­fi­cult work for eq­uity and jus­tice in Amer­ica.” Na­dine Smith, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Equal­ity Florida

comes to health care and health in­sur­ance. The changes are ex­pected to specif­i­cally im­pact peo­ple who are trans­gen­der.

“It has been a really dif­fi­cult last few years un­der the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion,” said Bran­don Wolf, de­vel­op­ment of­fi­cer for Equal­ity Florida in the greater Cen­tral Florida re­gion. “There have been as­saults on the LGBTQ com­mu­nity as re­cently as Fri­day. … I’m feel­ing a bit a re­lief to­day that some func­tions of our gov­ern­ment are still able to op­er­ate in­de­pen­dently from … the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.”

The ef­fort to broaden LGBTQ pro­tec­tions have not fared well in the Florida Leg­is­la­ture in re­cent years, either. For more than a decade, ad­vo­cates have tried to push through the Florida Com­pet­i­tive Work­force Act, which would add sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion and gen­der iden­tity to the 1992 Florida Civil Rights Act ban­ning dis­crim­i­na­tion based on “race, color, re­li­gion, sex, preg­nancy, na­tional ori­gin, age, hand­i­cap or mar­i­tal sta­tus.”

The bill has failed ev­ery year. Ear­lier this year, the pro­posal died in the House Civil Jus­tice Sub­com­mit­tee and was in­def­i­nitely post­poned and with­drawn from con­sid­er­a­tion in the Se­nate — de­spite be­ing sup­ported by a coali­tion of 450 Florida busi­nesses, in­clud­ing Dis­ney, Dar­den, AT&T and Florida Blue.

“So this rul­ing doesn’t min­i­mize the work we still have to do leg­isla­tively,” Smith said. “We still need to pass that Florida Com­pet­i­tive Work­force Act to cod­ify not only the pro­tec­tions ad­dressed by the Supreme Court rul­ing but in other ar­eas as well.”

Equal­ity Florida lead­ers said they plan to back such leg­is­la­tion again next ses­sion but said that Florida Gov. Ron De­San­tis could is­sue an ex­ec­u­tive or­der be­fore then to grant equal pro­tec­tions.

“The gover­nor should very clearly state that in ar­eas of state law where sex dis­crim­i­na­tion is pro­hib­ited, that that pro­tec­tion also ex­tends to LGBTQ peo­ple,” Wolf said. “He should take this op­por­tu­nity to lead and to make those pro­tec­tions clear.”

The gover­nor’s of­fice de­clined to com­ment specif­i­cally on that re­quest, but a spokesper­son said “the Supreme Court has de­ter­mined that this is the law of the land and it will be re­spected in Florida.”

Some 60% of ju­ris­dic­tions in the state — in­clud­ing the city of Or­lando and Or­ange County — al­ready of­fer civil rights pro­tec­tions to LGBTQ res­i­dents. De­spite that, Ge­orge Wal­lace, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of The Cen­ter Or­lando, an LGBTQ ad­vo­cacy group and so­cial ser­vices provider, said his agency still re­ceives reg­u­lar com­plaints about job dis­crim­i­na­tion.

“We get a lot of calls on this and peo­ple need re­fer­rals to the LGBT lawyer as­so­ci­a­tion,” Wal­lace said. “But un­for­tu­nately, a lot of times the out­come is, ‘Well, they really didn’t do any­thing il­le­gal.’ Un­til to­day, it was le­gal to be fired for be­ing gay in 21 states, so this [rul­ing] is a big deal. It’s right up there with mar­riage equal­ity.”

The Supreme Court’s de­ci­sion stemmed from cases in­volv­ing two gay men and a trans­gen­der woman who sued for em­ploy­ment dis­crim­i­na­tion af­ter they lost their jobs.

The fed­eral ap­peals court in New York ruled in fa­vor of a gay sky­div­ing in­struc­tor, Don­ald Zarda, who claimed he was fired be­cause of his sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion. Zarda died in Switzer­land in 2014.

In a case from Ge­or­gia, the fed­eral ap­peals court in At­lanta ruled against Ger­ald Bo­s­tock, a gay em­ployee of Clay­ton County, in the At­lanta suburbs. Bo­s­tock claimed he was fired in 2013 be­cause he is gay. The county ar­gues that Bo­s­tock was let go be­cause of the re­sults of an au­dit of funds he man­aged.

The 11th U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals dis­missed Bo­s­tock’s claim in a three­p­age opin­ion that noted the court was bound by a 1979 de­ci­sion that held “dis­charge for ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity is not pro­hib­ited by Ti­tle VII.”

Aimee Stephens lost her job as a funeral di­rec­tor in the Detroit area af­ter she re­vealed to her boss she had strug­gled with gen­der most of her life and had, at long last, “de­cided to be­come the per­son that my mind al­ready is.” Stephens told funeral home owner Thomas Rost that, fol­low­ing a va­ca­tion, she would re­port to work wear­ing a con­ser­va­tive skirt suit or dress that Rost re­quired for women who worked at his three funeral homes. Rost fired Stephens.

The 6th U.S. Cir­cuit Court of Ap­peals in Cincinnati ruled that the fir­ing con­sti­tuted sex dis­crim­i­na­tion un­der fed­eral law.

CHIP SO­MOD­EV­ILLA/GETTY

Joseph Fons holds a pride flag in front of the U.S. Supreme Court build­ing af­ter the court ruled Mon­day that LGBTQ peo­ple can­not be dis­ci­plined or fired based on their sex­ual ori­en­ta­tion.

JOE BUR­BANK/OR­LANDO SEN­TINEL

A visi­tor pays re­spects Fri­day at the Pulse In­terim Memo­rial on the fourth an­niver­sary of the night­club mas­sacre.

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