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Making the Case for Employment Fairness

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November 24, 2015
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Gregory R. Nevins

Employment fairness has been a central part of Lambda Legal’s work for 42 years — and the battles continue.

In spite of all our recent victories, hardworking people continue to experience pervasive discrimination in the workplace – and even lose their jobs – because of their sexual orientation, gender identity or HIV status. Work-related concerns remain one of the most common reasons why people contact Lambda Legal’s Help Desk.

That’s why in 2016 we will continue our fight for employment fairness on three tracks:

The first track is to continue to pursue impact litigation to strengthen the law and its interpretation by the courts. A landmark decision by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in July, citing some of Lambda Legal’s recent work, confirms what we have long argued in our cases: discriminating against gay, lesbian and bisexual employees is a form of sex discrimination and violates federal law. Sexual orientation discrimination against an individual occurs because of that individual’s gender. The law applies when discrimination is based on the gender of the employee in relation to the gender of the person they love. News that “Robinson is marrying the mayor’s daughter” can’t be acceptable when it’s Steve Robinson, but lead to discrimination against Stephanie Robinson. That’s sex discrimination.

In September, Lambda Legal argued on behalf of our client Kimberly Hively before the U.S. Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals during which we cited the EEOC decision. Kimberly worked as an instructor at Ivy Tech Community College in Indiana for 14 years. But the college denied her fulltime employment and promotions, and eventually terminated her employment, because she is a lesbian. We urged the Court to reverse a lower court ruling and allow Kimberly her day in court.

In fact, we have dozens of employment fairness cases on our docket. In Missouri, we filed a complaint on behalf of Clinton Moore, who was pulled from his job as a flight paramedic with Air Evac Lifeteam because he is living with HIV. Our complaint asserts that Moore, and all people living with HIV, are protected from employment discrimination by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

While we continue to fight in court, our second “track” is advocacy for a broad and explicit federal law prohibiting employment nondiscrimination, and securing protections in housing, credit, education and jury service.

Passage of the Equality Act would write sexual orientation and gender identity explicitly into Title VII, which currently prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin. Importantly, the bill also requires employers to provide access to sex-segregated facilities, such as restrooms and locker rooms, for employees in accordance with their gender identity. President Obama has vowed to sign the bill into law if it passes Congress.

Our third track is community education and outreach. We are helping LGBT people and people living with HIV better understand what their rights are with our mobile-friendly Know Your Rights: LGBT Employees and Employees With HIV. We want folks to know whether a federal court will recognize legal protections if they are living with HIV (absolutely), transgender (very likely), lesbian/gay/bisexual (very possibly, and the way this answer becomes better is when folks assert their rights). And we are also working to increase public understanding of who LGBT people are and what a fair, inclusive workplace looks like. This makes our country a more just and accepting place for everyone.

Please join Lambda Legal today and help us defend your right to fair and equal treatment in the workplace! Your membership gift will be matched dollar for dollar by the $1.25 million matching challenge from the estate of John Barham and Dick Auer.