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Let’s set the record straight on unions this Labor Day

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If your stereotype of a union worker is a white guy in a hard hat, let’s take this Labor Day to change that in a big way. Here’s the reality: 46.2% of union workers are women, and 36.1% are people of color. Black workers are the most likely to be represented by a union. More than half of workers represented by unions have an associate degree or more, and 43.1% have a bachelor’s degree. 

A reality you may be somewhat more aware of is that unions benefit their members and other workers covered by union contracts. Which they do—to the tune of an 11.2% wage boost for a worker under a union contract as compared to an equivalent worker in a nonunion workplace. But it’s important to understand that unions help nonunion workers, too. “Research shows that deunionization accounts for a sizable share of the growth in inequality between typical (median) workers and workers at the high end of the wage distribution in recent decades—on the order of 13–20% for women and 33–37% for men,” the Economic Policy Institute reports.

Put together the union wage boost and the diversity of today’s union members and there’s something else: Unions help fight not just overall economic inequality—the gulf between the 1% and the rest of us—but racial and gender disparities.

This, again from the Economic Policy Institute, is staggering: “White workers represented by union are paid ‘just’ 8.7% more than their nonunionized peers who are white, but Black workers represented by union are paid 13.7% more than their nonunionized peers who are Black, and Hispanic workers represented by unions are paid 20.1% more than their nonunionized peers who are Hispanic.”

Union workers are more likely to have paid sick days and health insurance—and unions have fought for laws ensuring that everyone will have access to paid sick days and health insurance.

So this Labor Day, remember: Unions help reduce racial and gender disparities for those covered by union contracts, as well as reducing the distance between typical workers and those at the very top—an effect that goes well beyond union members. They promote benefits like paid sick leave and have been instrumental in state and local campaigns to raise the minimum wage. And their members are definitely not all white guys in hard hats. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.)

This blog was originally published at DailyKos on September 7, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Laura Clawson is labor editor at Daily Kos.


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Dr. King’s Radical Revolution Of Values

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RichardEskowThis Monday, the nation celebrates Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. If he hadn’t been murdered, he would be 91 years old. How would Dr. King view today’s activists?

 

The words to his “I Have a Dream” speech will be repeated from podiums and in classrooms across the country. But many of the people repeating these words have never heard other King quotes, like this one:

“I am convinced that if we are to get on to the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values.”

King’s Answer

To those who condemn idealism, who preach the quiet cynicism of self-limiting “pragmatism” and insist it’s “how the world works,” Dr. King had an answer: He was, in his own words, “maladjusted.”

In a 1963 speech at Western Michigan University, he said:

There are certain things in our nation and in the world (about) which I am proud to be maladjusted… I say very honestly that I never intend to become adjusted to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to become adjusted to religious bigotry. I never intend to adjust myself to economic conditions that will take necessities from the many to give luxuries to the few. I never intend to adjust myself to the madness of militarism, to self-defeating effects of physical violence.

But in a day when sputniks and explorers are dashing through outer space and guided ballistic missiles are carving highways of death through the stratosphere, no nation can win a war. It is no longer the choice between violence and nonviolence. It is either nonviolence or nonexistence…

Dr. King also said: “This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy.”

“We must… realize,” he continued, “that the problems of racial injustice and economic injustice cannot be solved without a radical redistribution of political and economic power.”

A Radical Spirit

In other words, Dr. King was a radical.

A few years ago, invocations of Dr. King’s radical spirit were hard to find. They’re more common today, but even the best-intentioned of these pieces tend to place his radicalism in the past tense. That’s a mistake. Dr. King is gone, but his ideals live on.

We can never be sure how Dr. King might view current events, but he can still guide us through his rich record of words and deeds.

Here are six ways that the revolutionary spirit of Dr. King lives on.

Nonviolent Protests

Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks so to dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored … there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.
– Letter From a Birmingham Jail, 1963

Some politicians who invoke Dr. King this holiday will try to reduce his memory to an emoji they can paste onto their platitudes. But Dr. King was a troublemaker, in the best sense of the word. He knew what it meant to create tension, and discomfort, and disharmony.

While he lived, Dr. King was the target of almost unimaginable hatred and condemnation. It rained down on him from the streets of Southern towns and the corridors of FBI headquarters, from the boardrooms of bus companies and the booths of Boston diners.

Dr. King preached communication, but experienced excommunication – from that cozy world of ‘insiders’ who may argue but will never risk their lives or careers for higher ideals.

Would Dr. King have supported the actions of NFL protesters and movements like Black Lives Matter? It’s hard to imagine otherwise. Their actions make some people uncomfortable, but he wouldn’t have been bothered by that. Protests, he wrote, “merely bring to the surface the hidden tension that is already alive.”

The attacks on BLM protesters and the blackballing of Colin Kaepernick would feel very familiar to Dr. King and his associates. It’s impossible to believe he would not see their struggle as his own.

As for their motivations, Dr. King said this in his “I Have a Dream” speech: “There are those who are asking the devotees of civil rights, ‘When will you be satisfied?’ We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.”

The Struggle for Economic Justice

“Call it democracy, or call it democratic socialism, but there must be a better distribution of wealth within this country for all God’s children.” 
– Negro American Labor Council, 1961

King’s spirit also lives on in the movement for economic justice.

A 2014 Princeton study which has since been validated confirms that the United States has become an oligarchy, for all intents and purposes.  Multinational corporations are dictating the rules of employment and trade. The ultra-rich accumulate more and more of our national wealth and income, as the middle class dies and 40 million Americans – including one out of every five children – lives in poverty.

Corporations seek to inoculate themselves from being held accountable by promoting what they call “corporate social responsibility.”  A few people may be helped, but these programs are little more than coins flung at beggars.

Dr. King would probably not be impressed.  He would probably see more of himself in the work of groups like FED UP who are fighting for economic justice.

Expanding Access to Health

Dr. King also told the Medical Committee for Human Rights in 1966, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”

The provenance of this quote was questioned for years, until attorney and editor Amanda Moore tracked it down and confirmed it.  Dr. King said it less than a year after Medicare was passed into law.

Given what we know of his values, is it unreasonable to believe that Dr. King would stand with those groups that are fighting to ensure that Medicare’s protections are available to every American? And can there be any doubt that he would be committed to expanding Social Security, ensuring decent vacation and family leave benefits for all workers, and taking other steps to expand the social safety net?

The Fight for Workers’ Rights

The two most dynamic and cohesive liberal forces in the country are the labor movement and the Negro freedom movement. Together we can be architects of democracy.”
– Address to the Fourth Constitutional Convention of the AFL-CIO, August 1961

Dr. King’s spirit lives on in the most progressive and transformative elements of the labor movement.

He understood that inequality, “the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth,” could not be defeated without organized labor. Dr. King didn’t hesitate to challenge the labor movement when unions practiced racial discrimination.  But he was a fierce advocate for labor rights. He was in Memphis on behalf of striking sanitation workers, in fact, on that terrible night when bullets took his life.

Dr. King understood that the fight for civil rights was closely connected with the fight for workers’ rights. “Negroes in the United States read this history of labor and find that it mirrors their own experience,” he told the AFL-CIO. “We are confronted by powerful forces, telling us to rely on the goodwill and understanding of those who profit by exploiting us.”

An End to Militarism

“We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, for those it calls ‘enemy,’ for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.”
– Beyond Vietnam, 1967

His spirit lives in the groups fighting to end our country’s campaign of permanent war, and in the brave men and women who work to end the illegal and immoral practices of our military and intelligence services.

Dr. King said this, too, in his 1967 Christmas sermon on peace:

“… when we say Thou shalt not kill, we’re really saying that human life is too sacred to be taken on the battlefields of the world. Man is more than a tiny vagary of whirling electrons or a wisp of smoke from a limitless smoldering.”

He undoubtedly would have opposed the extrajudicial drone killings ordered by our current president and his two predecessors, and the torture campaigns orchestrated by the CIA.

This element of his spirit does not live on amongst the 117 Democratic members of the House, and the  41 Democratic senators, who joined their Republican colleagues in voting for an extravagant $770 billion boost to what was already the largest military budget in human history. They include some people who have been widely characterized as “progressive heroes.”

These politicians stand rebuked by the words Dr. King spoke to the National Labor Leadership Assembly for Peace in 1967:

Congress appropriates military funds with alacrity and generosity. It appropriates poverty funds with miserliness and grudging reluctance. The government is emotionally committed to the war. It is emotionally hostile to the needs of the poor.

The New Poor People’s Campaign

“A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth.”
– Beyond Vietnam, 1967

Dr. King’s spirit surely lives on in the recent revival of his Poor People’s Campaign, the project he was focused on at the time of his murder in 1968. This initiative, led by Revs. William Barber and Liz Theoharis, plans a “Poor People’s Assembly and March On Washington” on June 20, 2020,  to protest King’s “triple evils” of racism, poverty and militarism, and ecological devastation. This new campaign describes itself as “A National Call for Moral Revival.”

The original Campaign had a highly progressive economic agenda.  It called for $30 billion to be spent every year on anti-poverty programs. That would amount to roughly $213 billion per year in today’s dollars, or $2.13 trillion over a ten-year period. That may sound astronomical, but it’s not much more than Congress just gave away in tax breaks skewed toward the rich.

King’s Campaign was scheduled to begin with the construction a shantytown on the national Mall in Washington, DC, followed by a civil disobedience and mass arrests, and concluding with a nationwide boycott of major corporations and shopping areas to pressure business leaders to support its goals.

The original Poor People’s Campaign also called for a program of guaranteed employment and guaranteed income for all Americans, as well as the construction of 500,000 low-cost housing units each year until all slums were eliminated.

Jobs, income and housing for all. King’s vision is as radical and urgent today as it was fifty years ago.  A society dominated by the wealthy, one that has given so much to the few for so long, can surely do this much for the many.

Dr. King’s spirit lives on in the new Poor People’s Campaign, and in every place radicals gather to change the world.

Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.

This is an updated version of a blog OurFuture publishes every year in honor of Dr. King.

This article originally appeared at Ourfuture.org on January 20, 2020. Reprinted with permission.

Richard Eskow is a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future and the host of The Zero Hour, a weekly program of news, interviews, and commentary on We Act Radio The Zero Hour is syndicated nationally and is available as a podcast on iTunes. Richard has been a consultant, public policy advisor, and health executive in health financing and social insurance. He was cited as one of “fifty of the world’s leading futurologists” in “The Rough Guide to the Future,” which highlighted his long-range forecasts on health care, evolution, technology, and economic equality. Richard’s writing has been published in print and online. He has also been anthologized three times in book form for “Best Buddhist Writing of the Year.”


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Discrimination Based on Hair Styles is Now Illegal Under California Law

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Image result for patrick r kitchinThe Public Shearing of Andrew Johnson’s Dreadlocks

In December 2018, a video showed a white high school trainer in New Jersey cutting dreadlocks from 16-year old African American wrestler, Andrew Johnson. The lead referee had instructed him, ‘Cut your hair in the next 90 seconds, or you will be banned from today’s competition.’

The image is shocking: a white woman roughly cutting a black teenager’s hair in front of an auditorium filled with parents and children.  Andrew stared straight ahead.  The school initially argued haircut was needed for the safety of the wrestlers in accordance with standard rules about wrestlers’ hair length.

The justification for the act quickly was overpowered by its dreadful significance.  In response to the public outcry, the state attorney general’s office suspended the referee for two years, and ordered educators in all high schools in New Jersey to undergo implicit bias training.

A Conversation Begins

Public reactions to the video ranged from outrage to denial.  According to an April 17, 2019 Washington Post article about Mr. Johnson, residents of his hometown, in New Jersey had mixed reactions too.

Many who attended the match that night, saw the cutting of Andrew’s dreadlocks as an act of racial intolerance.  Others blamed Andrew himself for failing to follow hair length rules applicable to all wrestlers.  Some saw the event as proof that racism in America is endemic.  Others argued it was racist to claim that the cutting of Andrew Johnson’s deadlocks was an act of racial discrimination.

California Leads the Way

The California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“FEHA”) does not lay out an exhaustive list of acts and attitudes that violate the rights of job seekers and employees.  That is part of its strength.  If gives us the flexibility to decide whether an act or process is discriminatory based on the evidence in specific cases.

Instead of relying on a limited number of examples, FEHA sets out protected categories of people and conditions. One’s race falls into one of the protected categories.  Being disabled places a person into another.  A person cannot be harassed or discriminated against based on their status as a member or one or more of these categories.

Beginning January 1, 2020, policies and practices that target hairstyles associated with race constitute acts of discrimination in both education and employment.  Known as the CROWN Act (Create a Respectful and Open Workplace for Natural Hair), Senate Bill 188 modifies the California Fair Employment and Housing Act and the Education Code.  The newly defined additional category states that discrimination based on race now includes “traits historically associated with race, including, but not limited to, hair texture and protective hairstyles.”

Senate Bill 188 Expands Protections Against Discrimination in Employment and Education

California has some of the most broadly protective employment discrimination laws in the nation.  The CROWN Act adds “Protective hairstyles” as an additionally protected category under the Fair Employment and Housing Act.  SB-188 also amends the California Education Code to prohibit discrimination based on “Protective hairstyles,” which “includes, but is not limited to, such hairstyles as braids, locks, and twists.”

In a world where physical appearance continues to be employed as a weapon for denying equal protection under the law to all citizens and residents, the new law makes a powerful statement about race and ethnicity-based discrimination.  “Hair remains a rampant source of racial discrimination with serious economic and health consequences, especially for Black individuals,” the Legislature declares.

The Legislature’s Preamble to SB 188

The Legislative preamble to SB-188 makes a powerful statement about hair in the context of the history of race discrimination and toxic ethnocentrism in America.

To combat bigoted ideas that have permeated “societal understanding of professional,” the preamble states, “Workplace dress code and grooming policies that prohibit natural hair, including afros, braids, twists, and locks, have a disparate impact on Black individuals as these policies are more likely to deter Black applicants and burden or punish Black employees than any other group…, The Legislature recognizes that continuing to enforce a Eurocentric image of professionalism through purportedly race-neutral grooming policies that disparately impact Black individuals and exclude them from some workplaces is in direct opposition to equity and opportunity for all.”

Watershed Moments

The public shearing of Andrew Johnson’s dreadlocks in 2018 is another watershed moment in the history of race relations in America.  The public haircut of a black child surrounded by white adults generated discussions across our country about who we are and how we think about, and treat, others.

Bigotry is almost always accompanied by insults denigrating others based on their physical characteristics, whether it be skin or hair.  The legislative preamble to SB 188 should be required reading for every HR manager, supervisor and educator in California.

Reprinted with permission.

About the Author:Patrick R. Kitchin is the founder of Kitchin Legal APC, a San Francisco, California employment law firm. He has represented thousands of employees in both individual and class action cases involving violations of California and federal labor laws since founding his firm in 1999. Patrick also represents employers requiring guidance in California employment law. Patrick is a graduate of The University of Michigan Law School and rated AV-Preeminent by Martindale-Hubbell, its highest ranking for legal knowledge, skill, experience and ethics.


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When is a hairstyle not just a hairstyle? When it’s a pretext for discrimination.

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African Americans in particular find that their afros, cornrows and dreadlocks are held against them at school and when applying for jobs.

Employers in California no longer will be allowed to reject job candidates because they dislike their curls, coils, kinks or locks, after the governor signed a first-of-its-kind bill outlawing hair discrimination.

The new measure, signed Wednesday by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D), bans discrimination against a job candidate or school applicant for wearing natural hairstyles.

“There’s a human element to this. We don’t want to diminish people, we don’t want to demean people … We have to own up to the sins of the past,” Newsom said. “I hope that folks are paying attention all across this country.”

The bill was approved unanimously in both the California House and Senate.

The text of the measure states that throughout its history the United States has been “riddled with laws and societal norms that equated ‘blackness,’ and the associated physical traits, for example, dark skin, kinky and curly hair to a badge of inferiority, sometimes subject to separate and unequal treatment.”

The issue is a particularly fraught one for African Americans who have been expected to style their hair to conform with Caucasian norms of beauty or acceptability, especially in the workplace.

“Professionalism was, and still is, closely linked to European features and mannerisms, which entails that those who do not naturally fall into Eurocentric norms must alter their appearances, sometimes drastically and permanently, in order to be deemed professional,” the text of the legislation said.

Discrimination over her dreadlocks led Chastity Jones to fight a 10-year legal battle with an employer who fired her because she refused to get rid of the hairstyle. “It had nothing to do with the job,” she said. “It just had everything to do with my hair.”

Jones sued in 2013 for discrimination and lost wages, but her was dismissed by the court. The NAACP filed a petition last year on her behalf to the Supreme Court, but it declined to take the case.

And it has not just been a problem for workers: Last August, Louisiana sixth grader Faith Fennidy was kicked off the grounds of her Catholic school because her hair, neatly parted and swept back into braided ponytails, violated school policy.

ThinkProgress readers might also recall the case of Andrew Johnson, the high school wrestler in New Jersey who was told in December that he would have to submit to having his dreadlocks shorn off or forfeit the match.

California state Sen. Holly Mitchell introduced the anti-discrimination bill in her state, which extends the same protections that an individual would be afforded because of their skin color to their natural hairstyle and texture.

“The way the hair grows out of my head as a black woman is a trait of race,” Mitchell said, explaining the thinking behind her legislation, which has been dubbed the CROWN Act.

Reports say similar legislation is being considered in New Jersey and in New York, where a bill against discrimination on the basis of a person’s natural hair has passed both chambers of the state legislature and is awaiting Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s signature.

This article was originally published at In These Times on July 2, 2019. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Stephanie Griffith is a senior editor. She has worked as an editor and reporter for the Associated Press, The Washington Post, and Agence France-Presse, among other journalism gigs.

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Black Workers Say Walmart’s Background Checks Are Racially Discriminatory

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When Walmart announced in January that it was “in-sourcing” its Elwood, Illinois, distribution center, workers were cautiously optimistic.

Since it opened in 2006, the 3.4 million-square-foot warehouse has been operated by Schneider Logistics, a third-party contractor, which in turn hired workers through temp agencies. Walmart’s plan to absorb several of its outsourced warehouses nationwide meant an end to this web of subcontracting, which labor organizers charge is one of the company’s union-busting tactics.

The retail giant also announced that it would rehire as many current warehouse workers as possible, with raises in starting pay and benefits. Mark Balentine, who has performed quality assurance in the Elwood warehouse for three years, says he was offered and accepted the same position as a Walmart employee. It came with a pay bump from $16.35 an hour to $18.65.

“I was absolutely excited,” says Balentine.

But last month, just three weeks before Walmart was set to take over, Balentine says he received an e-mail informing him he was ineligible to work for the company based on the results of a criminal background check. He has a conviction for cocaine possession on his record that dates back to 1999.

Now 52, Balentine says he mentors youth leaving prison and is an ordained deacon at his Baptist church in Auburn-Gresham. He says the conviction hasn’t posed a problem for him in years.

Balentine is one of two Black workers who filed racial discrimination charges against Walmart this week, alleging that the company’s background check policies had a disparate impact on African Americans in the Elwood facility.

Between 100 and 200 other African American workers may have been affected, according to Chris Williams, an attorney with the National Legal Advocacy Network, which filed the complaint with the Illinois Department of Human Rights and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). A class-action suit could follow.

Walmart says its hiring practices exceed state and federal legal requirements and provide candidates with criminal records “a meaningful opportunity to put the record in context.”

“Retaining as many existing employees as possible has always been the goal of our transition at the Elwood distribution center, and we hired hundreds of those workers,” said spokesperson Kory Lundberg in a statement e-mailed to In These Times. “We understand the importance of providing second chances and our background checks include a thoughtful and transparent review process to help ensure everyone is treated fairly.”

But the complaint alleges that the company failed to perform any such individualized review of African American workers’ eligibility, which is part of guidance on employers’ use of criminal background checks issued by the EEOC in 2012.

Instead, according to Balentine, laid-off workers were given “$250 and a slice of pizza” and told they could reapply through the same process in 60 days.

“They told me to ‘roll the dice and try again,’” says Balentine. “And I was like, ‘this is my life.’”

Lundberg said that some candidates with criminal records “were offered a position after a personalized review of their offense,” but did not provide further details by press time.

According to the complaint, “other non-African employees with criminal backgrounds have been permitted to continue working at the Walmart distribution center.”

As many as 100 million Americans have some form of criminal record that can impact their access to jobs, housing and other public services. People with felony convictions, which are most likely to result in exclusion, represent an estimated 8 percent of the overall U.S. population and 33 percent of the African American male population.

A growing number of states and municipalities have attempted to address racially discriminatory hiring through “Ban the Box” laws that bar government employers or contractors from including questions about criminal background on job applications. Twelve states also bar private employers from doing so.

But racial discrimination in the temporary staffing industry is notoriously difficult to address. A series of lawsuits in Illinois and elsewhere have accused staffing agencies of discriminating against Black workers by, among other things, requiring them to submit to criminal background checks to which other workers are not subjected.

Exclusion of workers with a criminal record is “a huge issue in the warehouse industry,” says Roberto Jesus Clack, associate director of Warehouse Workers for Justice. The Illinois-based worker center holds monthly expungement workshops and organized meetings for the group of Elwood workers.

Elwood is located in Will County, which is home to more than 300 warehouses in total and a maze of temp agencies. When workers have raised complaints about wage theft and horrific working conditions—including during a landmark 2012 warehouse strike—a maze of subcontracting has made it difficult to hold either Walmart or Schneider Logistics responsible. While insourcing could represent “a step in the right direction,” says Clack, Walmart introducing new barriers to employment is instead a step backward.

“I’m looking out for the person behind me,” says Balentine. “The 17-year-old that’s getting in trouble today and who sees what happens to me and then he decides, ‘What’s the point in changing? They aren’t going to give me a chance anyway.'”

This article was originally published at In These Times on April 25, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Rebecca Burns is an award-winning investigative reporter whose work has appeared in The Baffler, the Chicago Reader, The Intercept and other outlets. She is a contributing editor at In These Times. Follow her on Twitter @rejburns.


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Supreme Court will decide if it is legal to fire someone for being LGBTQ

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When Justice Anthony Kennedy announced he would leave the Supreme Court last June, he gave a giant middle finger to millions of gay, lesbian, and bisexual Americans who saw the Court slowly begin to respect their humanity. Though Kennedy was very conservative on most issues, he was relatively moderate on gay rights questions, and often joined with the Court’s liberal bloc to vindicate these rights.

Kennedy’s replacement, Brett Kavanaugh, is a much more doctrinaire conservative who is unlikely to have much sympathy for LGBTQ plaintiffs. So the shift from Kennedy to Kavanaugh is likely to be felt hard in three cases the Supreme Court agreed to hear on Monday.

Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda and Bostock v. Clayton County both ask whether existing federal law prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. EEOC asks the same question about anti-trans discrimination.

In all three cases, the legal arguments against saying that such discrimination is forbidden are exceedingly weak. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 forbids employment discrimination “because of . . . sex” (the word “sex” in this context refers to gender and not to sexual intercourse), and it is difficult to argue that firing someone for being LGBTQ is not a form on gender discrimination.

As the appeals court explained in Harris Funeral Homes, the trans discrimination case, “it is analytically impossible to fire an employee based on that employee’s status as a transgender person without being motivated, at least in part, by the employee’s sex.” The whole point of such a firing is that the employee’s boss does not believe that the employee identifies with the proper gender.

Similarly, suppose that a woman is fired because she is a lesbian. A lesbian is a woman who is sexually attracted to women, but presumably the same employer would not fire men who are sexually attracted to women. Thus, this woman was fired because she has desires that male employees are allowed to have. That is gender discrimination.

Additionally, in Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins, the Supreme Court held that “sex stereotyping” is illegal gender discrimination. Firing an employee because you believe them to be a man who is behaving too much like a woman is sex stereotyping. Similarly, the notion that only men may have sex with women and vice-versa may be the ultimate sex stereotype.

So if the Supreme Court follows the law in ZardaBostock, and Harris Funeral Homes, they will rule in favor of the plaintiffs in a 9-0 decision. That outcome, however, is unlikely.

If a decade of increasingly ridiculous judicial opinions striking down Obamacare has taught the legal profession anything, it should be that, in politically charged cases, judges are more likely to behave like raw partisans rather than as jurists.

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Republicans control a majority on the Supreme Court. Republicans oppose LGBTQ rights. It’s not hard to guess how ZardaBostock, and Harris Funeral Homes are likely to be decided.

About the Author: Ian Millhiser is a columnist for ThinkProgress, and the author of Injustices: The Supreme Court’s History of Comforting the Comfortable and Afflicting the Afflicted.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on April 22, 2019. Reprinted with permission.


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‘Religious freedom’ arguments kill Nebraska’s LGBTQ employment protections bill

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Nebraska is one of more than two dozen states that have no LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections at the state level. That’s not changing anytime soon, as a bill to create employment protections came to an abrupt end this week.

State Sen. Patty Pansing Brooks (D) introduced LB 627 in January this year. The legislation would have updated all relevant state statutes to prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. Pansing Brooks, whose son is gay, pleaded with fellow lawmakers Tuesday to consider the bill.

Pansing Brooks nearly secured the 25-vote majority she needed for passage, but could not find the 33 votes she needed to overcome a filibuster-ending cloture motion. Opponents of the bill claimed that it would be used to target religious business owners in the state and punish them for their beliefs.

Sen. Robert Clements (R) suggested that LGBTQ people didn’t deserve protections because he wasn’t aware of any science suggesting they were “born at birth that way.” Moreover, he took umbrage that “what the Bible teaches, and Christians and Jews have affirmed for 2,000 years, is being called hateful,” claiming the bill constituted “reverse discrimination.”

After reading an email from a constituent claiming that the protections would punish people of faith for their religious beliefs, Sen. Dave Murman (R) also claimed the bill “would threaten small-business owners with liability for alleged discrimination based on perceived gender.”

Many of the lawmakers who supported LB 627 warned of a brain drain, with young people leaving the state to find a more welcoming community. Sen. Megan Hunt (D), who identifies as bisexual and Nebraska’s first-ever LGBTQ senator, is herself a business owner and employs 12 young women, and knows first-hand how challenging it is to keep young people in the state. “I think there’s a lot to learn about why Nebraska struggles to keep young people here,” she said.

Sen. Adam Morfeld (D) similarly recalled the story of an attorney who lost a position at a Nebraska law firm after he inquired about same-sex partner benefits, and talked about a constituent in his district who was fired from a fast-food restaurant after it came out he had a boyfriend.

But opponents of the bill were not convinced. Murman instead insisted that young people were supposedly flocking to Nebraska because of the state’s conservative values.

Though LB 627 is essentially dead for the session, Pansing Brooks is still optimistic that the debate helped create some change that will allow it to pass in the future. Writing on Facebook after its defeat, she took hope that the politics of the state were changing and that “Nebraska will ultimately see the light.”

“I will continue to fight with every fiber of my being for the protection of LGBTQ people’s civil rights,” she wrote.

Democrats in Congress are expected to introduce the Equality Act soon, which would create nationwide LGBTQ protections in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, and credit. Though the bill has previously been introduced in the past two sessions of Congress, Republicans never brought it up for a vote.

This blog was originally published at ThinkProgress on March 5, 2019. Reprinted with permission 

About the Author: Zack Ford is the LGBTQ Editor at ThinkProgress.org, where he has covered issues related to marriage equality, transgender rights, education, and “religious freedom,” in additional to daily political news.


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Missouri Supreme Court opens the door to LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections

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The Missouri Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that a gay employee’s case alleging sex discrimination in the workplace could proceed, reversing a lower court ruling and establishing a new precedent that could help protect embattled non-heterosexual workers in the future.

The court also ruled on a separate but similar case involving a transgender student who claimed his school discriminated against him by blocking him from bathrooms and other facilities, saying the student deserved a fair hearing.

At stake in the first case is the extent to which gay, lesbian, and bi people in Missouri are protected on the basis of their sex. State law does not extend employment nondiscrimination protections on the basis of “sexual orientation,” meaning it’s fully legal to fire someone based on their sexuality. But in this case, while the plaintiff acknowledged that he is gay, he claimed that he faced discrimination because of sex stereotyping, not because of his sexual orientation.

Harold Lampley, an employee in the state’s Department of Social Services Child Support Enforcement Division, filed a complaint arguing that he was harassed at work for his non-stereotypical behaviors, noting that employees with stereotypical behaviors were not similarly treated. He claimed to have experienced regular verbal abuse and forced closed-door meetings about his performance. After he complained, he also alleged that he experienced retaliation in the form of poor performance evaluations not consistent with his work.

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Lampley’s friend and coworker Rene Frost likewise claimed that she suffered discrimination merely for her affiliation with Lampley. The employer allegedly violated her privacy by publicly announcing her performance review. After she complained, she said she faced retaliation, such as having her desk moved away from Lampley’s and other coworkers with whom she collaborated. Frost claimed she was also banned from eating lunch with Lampley and allegedly faced similar verbal abuse and harassment.

The Missouri Commission on Human Rights concluded this discrimination wasn’t actionable because Lampley’s sexual orientation isn’t protected, and a lower court agreed. It relied on a similar ruling against a recycling company employee named James Pittman, who claimed he had been called a “cocksucker,” asked if he had AIDS, and harassed for having a same-sex partner. The Western District Missouri Court of Appeals ruled in 2015 that Pittman could find no relief under state law, and a circuit court concluded the same must be true for Lampley and Frost.

But in Tuesday’s ruling, the Missouri Supreme Court concluded that being gay does not preclude an employee from protection on the basis of “sex,”which includes sex stereotyping. “[A]n employee who suffers an adverse employment decision based on sex-based stereotypical attitudes of how a member of the employee’s sex should act can support an inference of unlawful sex discrimination,” the majority wrote.

“Sexual orientation is incidental and irrelevant to sex stereotyping. Sex discrimination is discrimination, it is prohibited by the Act, and an employee may demonstrate this discrimination through evidence of sexual stereotyping,” they explained. The Commission was wrong not to give them an opportunity to demonstrate their sex-stereotyping claim, and the Court ordered it to issue Lampley and Frost right-to-sue letters.

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The second case on which the Court ruled this week similarly focused on the debate over protections on the basis of sex.

Student “R.M.A.” filed a complaint against Blue Springs School District for denying him access to the boys’ restrooms and locker rooms. The school initially countered both that “gender identity” was not protected under the state’s “sex” protections and also that it should not be considered a “public accommodation” and thus the nondiscrimination law should not apply to it at all. Without specifying which reasoning informed its opinion, a lower court dismissed R.M.A.’s complaint outright.

In a 5-2 ruling this week, the state Supreme Court reached a different conclusion. Rather than considering sex stereotyping, the majority recognized that once a transgender individual has legal changed their sex, as R.M.A. has, they are protected on the basis of that sex. In a footnote, the majority called out the dissenting justices for relying on a distinction between “legal sex” and “biological sex” that is not actually found anywhere in the law. R.M.A. is a boy, and if he’s not being allowed to use boys’ facilities, then he deserves his day in court.

This pair of rulings opens the door to far greater protection for LGBTQ people under Missouri state law — but with some limitations.

The first ruling, for example, accepts the premise that sexual orientation is not itself connected to sex stereotyping, even though expectations about the gender of a person’s romantic partners are obvious stereotypes themselves. This means that while Lampley and other gay, lesbian, and bi workers will now have an opportunity to pursue discrimination claims moving forward, it will require them to prove that they were targeted because of sex stereotypes not directly connected to their sexual orientation.

Likewise, the ruling in favor of R.M.A. seems to rely on transgender people legally changing their sex designation before they are eligible for protection. State law requires transgender people provide proof of surgery to update their birth certificates, although some judges have granted the new gender markers without that requirement. This means that there may still be inconsistent financial and medical obstacles to qualifying for legal protection.

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Neither ruling weighs the merits of the discrimination claims, so it also remains to be seen whether Lampley or R.M.A. will prevail once their complaints are given due consideration.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on February 26, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Zack Ford is the LGBTQ Editor at ThinkProgress.org, where he has covered issues related to marriage equality, transgender rights, education, and “religious freedom,” in additional to daily political news.


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Federal judge blocks military from discharging service members with HIV

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A federal judge in Virginia ruled Friday that the U.S. military must suspend its practice of discharging service members because they have HIV.

The injunction followed a lawsuit filed by two airmen who learned in November that they would not be permitted to continuing serving in the military because of their HIV status. This is despite the fact that both were in treatment and had undetectable viral loads, making it virtually impossible for them to transmit the virus to others.

The discharges were part of a policy the Pentagon implemented last year colloquially known as “deploy or get out” (DOGO). It was an attempt to trim military personnel based on who was fit to serve across the globe at any given time. In the case of the two plaintiffs, they were deemed unfit to deploy despite supporting recommendations from medical personnel.

Judge Leonie Brinkema, a Clinton appointee, agreed the new policy discriminated against people with HIV. “Plaintiffs have made a strong and clear showing that defendants’ policies are irrational, outdated, and unnecessary and their decisions arbitrary, unreasoned, and inconsistent,” she wrote.

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The military, she explained, is operating “based on a flawed understanding of HIV” that is causing HIV-positive service members to be “irrationally and arbitrarily swept from the ranks.”

“Because of advances in medicine and science, HIV is no longer a progressive, terminal illness,” Brinkema wrote. Considering the medical expertise the plaintiffs brought forward, she noted that even if there is a sustained disruption to an HIV-positive service member receiving their medication, “an individual’s risk of transmitting HIV during military service remains vanishingly low.”

The military, by contrast, could not present any recorded cases of accidental HIV transmission on the battlefield.

Plenty of other medical conditions, including some that require regular medication, still allow for service members to be deployed. “There appears to be no reason why asymptomatic HIV is singled out for treatment so different from that given to other chronic conditions, all of which are subject to worsening upon disruption of daily medication,” the decision read.

Moreover, the military did not present a single expert of its own to justify the double standard. Brinkema chastised the military for citing a report that “contains no scientific data, evidence, or real-life accounts, but rather is a mere recitation of defendants’ policies.”

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In addition to the two plaintiffs, the LGBTQ military organization OutServe-SLDN also joined the lawsuit on behalf of several other service members who feared they might also be discharged based on their HIV status, and Brinkema agreed that the DOGO policy could potentially impact others.

The judge’s order enjoins the military from separating or discharging not only the plaintiffs, but any similarly situated active-duty member of the Air Force because of their HIV status.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on February 15, 2019. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Zack Ford is the LGBTQ Editor at ThinkProgress.org, where he has covered issues related to marriage equality, transgender rights, education, and “religious freedom,” in additional to daily political news.


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Virginia firefighter sues employer after allegedly losing his job to anti-gay discrimination

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Scott Philips-Gartner of Norfolk, Virginia tendered his resignation from the Norfolk Fire Department one year ago, after a 27-year career. He said it was because he was allegedly about to be fired for being gay.

Now, he’s suing the city.

A U.S. Navy veteran with war-time service, Gartner started working for Norfolk back in 1991 as a telecommunications officer, and was promoted several times in the years that followed, first to firefighter cardiac technician, then to Assistant Fire Marshall for the city. He was also a senior member of the Norfolk Bomb Squad. But as his complaint details, his career took a sudden, inexplicable downturn after he married his longtime partner in October 2014.

Gartner said he began to hear anti-gay comments form his superiors. Battalion Chief Roger Burris allegedly mocked Gartner for his sexual orientation. “In December 2015, Chief Burris verbally attacked Gartner’s sexuality during an open staff meeting by asking ‘Where is Ms. Gartner?’ which prompted other coworkers to laugh,” the suit offers as an example.

Gartner filed complaints about these incidents. He had also written a letter defending one of the female employees, Karen Barnes, who’d also claimed she had experienced gender discrimination by Burris. According to the complaint, it was Chief Ronnie Mann, a good friend of Burris’, who was charged with investigating the complaints against him.

It is unclear that anything ever came of these complaints, so Gartner and Barnes took their concerns to the city auditor, noting they had experienced further retaliation for the original complaints they’d filed.

The harassment continued well into July 2016.

That month, the complaint alleges, “Chief Burris said that he was going to place Gartner ‘in the middle of a large crowd of demonstrators holding up a sign,’ implying that he wished he could set Gartner up to be attacked by protestors that opposed homosexual marriage.”

Then, in March of 2017, Gartner was suddenly demoted. He was stripped entirely of his police powers, his duties as an IT administrator, his use of Norfolk city vehicles, his firearm, his computer, and his cell phone. The complaint claims that he was reassigned to a temporary facility miles from his usual office “with little to no job duties.” Two weeks later, his request for routine bomb squad training was likewise denied and he was also ordered to retire his service dog.

By November, Gartner learned Fire Chief Jeffrey Wise was planning to terminate him. He instead put in for his retirement, ending his career with the department this past January. He is 55 years old. According to Gartner’s attorney, Barry Montgomery, the harassment and demotions “disrupted his whole life.”

Gartner filed his suit in federal court, reflecting the multiple grievances he had also filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Neither the city nor the fire department was willing to comment when asked by The Virginian-Pilot, calling it a personnel matter.

In December of 2016, the city of Norfolk began protecting municipal employees from anti-gay discrimination, and the city council also passed a citywide law protecting LGBTQ workers the following summer. Neither, however, seemed to do anything to ameliorate the retaliation Gartner experienced during that time.

Virginia remains one of 26 states with no explicit protections for LGBTQ workers.

This article was originally published at ThinkProgress on November 29, 2018. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Zack Ford is the LGBTQ Editor at ThinkProgress.org, where he has covered issues related to marriage equality, transgender rights, education, and “religious freedom,” in additional to daily political news.


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